Et was half-time, Hungary were 1-0 down against Italy on Monday night. Since the situation was by no means hopeless, the organizers in Budapest’s Puskás Arena allowed themselves a little meanness on the occasion of the last game of the group stage in the Nations League come to mind. The stadium’s video screen showed moving images of a player in azure shooting a penalty.
The situation in Italy has the potential for collective trauma. Because the Brazilian-born Italian would have Jorginho failed to kick the ball over the goal in the game against Switzerland at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico last November, Italy would probably be at the World Cup in winter. So recording that scene as the host wasn’t an act of kindness.
“That’s no consolation”
You have to get the team from Roberto Mancini however, do not explicitly remember their self-made dramas. The nation had to grapple with the fact that the four-time world champion and reigning European champion missed a World Cup for the second time in a row. Even the somewhat surprising entry into the Final Four of the Nations League, which Italy achieved with a deserved 2-0 win against Hungary, cannot hide this fact.
You only had to read the titles of the newspapers in Italy on Tuesday to understand how deep the sting is. “How sad!” was the headline in Corriere dello Sport, writing: “The pain of missing out on qualifying for the World Cup is greater.” “Italy, bitter joy,” read the front page of Gazzetta dello Sport, and below it: “We are in the Final Four, but that’s no consolation.”
In fact, it’s an unanswerable question as to why the Italy national team are driving their supporters insane with such disparate performances. First the European title, then a draw against Bulgaria, Switzerland and Northern Ireland in the World Cup qualifier. Most recently a 0:1 in the playoff against North Macedonia and with it the football apocalypse.
A committed team could be seen against Hungary and before that against England, which put the opponent under strong pressure with young players and skilfully alternated long passing games with ball relays. During the European Championship, Mancini had the “squadra azzurra” still play in the 4-3-3 system as a ball-safe magic group. After the crash, Mancini switched to a more vertical and defensively stable 3-5-2. The safety mindset paid off in the final stages against Hungary, as goalkeeper Gigi Donnarumma made several brilliant saves for his team.
Even without the injured or not yet recovered regulars like Federico Chiesa, Marco Verratti or Ciro Immobile Roberto Mancini’s team made a lively impression. 22-year-old Giacomo Raspadori (SSC Napoli) scored two goals for the national team in four days. Mancini’s men put five pressure on Hungary’s defence, Adam Nagy, who plays in the second Italian division, gave goalkeeper Peter Gulasci (RB Leipzig) too short, Raspadori scored the 1-0 (27th minute). The striker had already scored in the new edition of the European Championship final against England (1-0) on Friday.
A certain Federico Dimarco (24) repeatedly came dangerously in front of the Gulacsi goal from the left side of Italy. Dimarco not only rivals Robin Gosens at Inter Milan but also scored 2-0 in the 57th minute. “The growing bitterness over missing the World Cup for the second time in a row – the closer it gets, the more it hurts – is almost turning to anger in the face of this result,” wrote La Repubblica. Because: it works. Italy would easily have what it takes to take part in the World Cup, which begins in November, but is simply not there.
The European Championship qualification only begins in March. Mancini’s team now has to wait eight months to play the final tournament of the Nations League in the Netherlands against Holland, Croatia and Portugal or Spain. “The fact that we don’t go to the World Cup remains an open wound,” said goalkeeper Donnarumma. “It will be difficult to get through December,” added national coach Mancini after the game.
The success in the Nations League is “important, but the disappointment that we are not going to Qatar remains”. There were also voices that tried to take a philosophical view of the harsh reality. The Corriere della Sera, for example, wrote about reaching the final: “Not the greatest feeling in the year of the World Cup, but better than nothing.”