We The Italians | Italian sport: Soccer unites Europe

Italian sport: Soccer unites Europe

Italian sport: Soccer unites Europe

  • WTI Magazine #139 May 22, 2021
  • 76

On June 11, the old continent will be united thanks to the European Football Championship, the event that every four years brings the greatest emotions to sports fans. After sixty years from the beginning of the tournament, for the first time it will not be one or two nations to host the Championship, but eleven different countries.

An important signal for Europe that is trying to become more and more united, even if the path is still long because even today in the same states of the union there are internal divisions, as in the case of Spain and Ukraine for example, in addition to Great Britain that after Brexit lives strong internal conflicts. From June 11 to July 11, the traveling tournament will see twenty-four teams compete for the victory of the much coveted trophy, and tens of millions of people will follow the event on television, considering that due to the pandemic in the stadiums the presence of the public will be reduced. In fact, this is the first edition of the European Football Championship to take place in an odd-numbered year: it was supposed to be played in 2020, but covid forced the organizers to postpone it by a year.

Two glorious stadiums will host the first match and the final, they are the Olympic Stadium in Rome and Wembley Stadium in London, the cities of the two nations where soccer is a religion. For the Italian national team, four times world champion, the European Championships have always been a misfortune. Only in 1968, as host country, did it manage to win the tournament by beating the former Jugoslavia, while in 2000 and 2012 it was defeated in the final by France and Spain.

After the fourth world title of the "Azzurri" won in 2006, the team went into decline. At the World Cups of 2010 and 2014, Italy exited in the first round, and in 2018 it did not even manage to qualify for the tournament. Now, however, it's back to being a winning team, thanks to head coach Roberto Mancini, who has set many records in his time on the Italy bench. The coach born in Jesi, in the Marche region, has led the team in thirty official matches, winning twenty-one of them; in the last twenty-five games Italy has never lost; in the last six no one has scored a goal against us, and Italy also managed to win all the first three matches for the 2022 World Cup qualifiers.

These are truly impressive numbers for a national team that for many years has been considered a second tier team and this gives the fans hope for a victory at the European Championships. Mancini's team is not full of big stars, but it is a very close-knit group capable of playing unspectacular but very effective soccer. In the thirty official matches, there have been twenty-eight players who have scored at least one goal, proof of how it is the group that wins and not just one celebrity. Another demonstration is the fact that there is not a block of just one team, but that among the possible protagonists are players from many different teams. From Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma to Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci to Atalanta's Rafael Toloi (born in Brazil but with Italian origins and citizenship); from Inter midfielder Nicolò Barella to Roma's Lorenzo Pellegrini to Sassuolo's Manuel Locatelli; from Naples forward Lorenzo Insigne to Lazio's Ciro Immobile to Turin's Andrea Belotti. The Italians who play abroad are also represented by the midfielder who plays in France, for Paris Saint Germain, Marco Verratti.  

There is another factor to take into consideration for Italy's chances of success, and also to understand how the geography of Europe and of the European soccer has changed. In the new millennium, the European Championship has been won almost exclusively by national teams from the south of the continent, those that face the Mediterranean Sea: Greece, Spain and Portugal, and once by France, which is geographically divided between southern and northern Europe. In the previous forty years, however, the tournament was mainly won by the nations of northern and eastern Europe: West Germany, Denmark, Holland, the former URRS and the former Czechoslovakia. A remarkable soccer, historical and geopolitical change: think about the fact that three winning countries and one runner-up in the second part of the last century now no longer exist, namely the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, West Germany and Yugoslavia. But also a football trend that pushes towards the south making Italy well hopeful, ready to follow this trend with a victory that would give millions of fans an incredible joy fifty-three years after the first and only European success.