The Gentleman Ultra writer on the change in mood after Lille as they face a tough last-16 match
Italy as a nation, take time to get enthused about any major tournament.
There is often a lamenting for the domestic season that coincides with the annoyance that a tournament will mess up potential summer plans. This year was much the same, although the first forays from Antonio Conte’s men in France whipped up unexpected excitement. Despite having already topped the group, by the time they came to face the Republic of Ireland the populous were expecting momentum but instead they were met with change. This change resulted in defeat and with this came grumbling with the headline in Gazzetta Dello Sport stating "Give us our Italy back".
It is bizarre that the general public and the media were so concerned. The papers beforehand hardly mentioned that there was even going to be a game against the Boys in Green. Instead they focused on how damned unlucky they were and in truth, how intolerable it was, that they had won their group and yet had been given a fixture against arch enemies Spain. Gianluigi Buffon had commented that it was bizarre and "not normal" that Italy had already qualified before the final game and when the papers and the public failed to acknowledge the build-up, it made the reaction afterwards even more shocking.
The players spoke after the game of "unfortunate situations" and "momentary lapses", acknowledging that the eight changes made had knocked their rhythm but that they should have played better. The reaction of Gigi Buffon and 'Il Mister' Conte towards the Irish after the game, was one of genuine pleasure that the opposition had gone through. The coach had learned what he had to learn and now it would be on to Spain right? Wrong.
Ireland's Robbie Brady celebrates scoring his side's winner against Italy ©INPHO/James Crombie
On the contrary a strange situation developed where the Italian fans found themselves annoyed by proceedings. Firstly, by the changes and secondly from the fact that they had been needlessly enthused. The slow and apathetic approach to tournaments had been fast forwarded into excitement not normally allowed them until the second round or quarter-finals. Now they were "up for the chase" and wanted the team to press on winning three out of three and then going to play Spain. Now instead they had been handed out a large dose of pessimism due, not just to the changes but the nature of them.
Buffon had been rested due to having a version of the flu. This was fine and understandable. After all, Salvatore Sirigu is the heir apparent and could do with some tournament experience. Antonio Candreva had reportedly got a hamstring problem so this also made sense as he is integral to the team. After this however, many could not see the need for change apart from Leonardo Bonucci who was on a yellow card, so surely he would be rested? He wasn’t. When the eight changes did not include the Juventus defender and the rest did not perform the reaction was bleak. The only other player they wanted to see was Lorenzo Insigne, superb when he came on but unfortunately for them, not for long enough.
Italy's Ciro Immobile, left, Italy's Alessandro Florenzi, center, and Italy's Lorenzo Insigne embrace as they attend a training session at the Bernard Gasset center in Montpellier, France, Friday, June 24, 2016. Italy will face Spain in a Euro 2016 round of 16 soccer match in Paris on Monday, June 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)
Still moving onto Spain the Italians are united again. Full strength it should be apart it seems from Candreva who is still struggling. The game itself should suit this Italian side as they will be happy to concede possession and try and punish what seems to be a fallible Spanish defence on the counter attack. It may not even be a surprise to see Conte actually try and mirror the Belgium game and attack from the off before retreating into their shell.
The game will certainly be heated and intense, Giorgio Chiellini pointed out that although the teams have respect for each other, the Spanish are their bogey team and have been since 2008. They will not be underestimated by Spain either, as the Gazzetta Dello Sport reported today, midfielder Xavi had said that "Ours is the better football, but we suffer against three-man defences". With reports that Insigne will also start the prospects are looking up for the Azzurri although both sides admitted it is a shame the game came in the round of 16.
Conte may have made changes in the game against the Republic of Ireland and there may have been rumblings by the press and fans alike afterwards but a win against Spain and all will be forgotten. If Conte can turn the game into a war of attrition between possession football and a defence that absorbs it, then the game could be quite thrilling and if the Azzurri are victorious on Monday, nobody will remember the changes.
Words Richard Hall