Italy have a point to prove in this Euro after failing to qualify for the Russia World Cup. It was shocking when Italy failed to earn a berth in the last World Cup and, as expected, coach Gian Piero Ventura was given the boot. Roberto Mancini took over the reins and under him Italy have been a transformed side in the last three years. Currently on a 26-match unbeaten run — the second longest streak in the team’s history, trailing only a 30-match stretch from 1935-39 under Vittorio Pozzo — Italy give the impression that they are back for real. Credit must go to Mancini who have found the right mix of youth and experience.
Mancini’s decision to include an injured Marco Verratti in the final squad raised a few eyebrows. Verratti suffered knee ligament damage last month with his club, Paris Saint-Germain. With an estimation that six weeks’ recovery could be needed, the 28-year-old is likely to be ruled out of the group matches. That’s okay with Mancini it seems. Focus will also be on AC Milan’s
22-year-old goalkeeper Gigio Donnarumma. This Euro gives him big chance to prove himself as the just successor of Gianluigi Buffon.
For a team which loves to play from the back, Mancini will be hoping forwards Ciro Immobile and Andrea Belotti have a ball in the next one month or so. The problem is Immobile (Lazio) and Belotti (Torino) seem to lose the plot when they wear the national team jersey, something akin to the Argentina players. Italy have a history of producing world-class strikers but somehow neither Immobile nor Beloti gives an impression that they are ready to be up there.
What’s in store?
They are clear favourites to top their group. And then it’s anybody’s guess. “There are teams that are a step above us but we don’t feel inferior to anyone and we want to surprise,” Bonucci had said recently.
⚫ Placed in Group A with Wales, Turkey and Switzerland
⚫ Euro record: Champions 1968
⚫ Euro 2016 finish: Lost 6-7 (1-1) to Germany in the quarter finals.
Joshua Kimmich. File photo
Germany are not in the pink of health. Everything has gone wrong for Joachim Loew’s men in the last two years. From getting a 0-6 hammering at the hands of Spain in November last year in a Nations League match to losing 1-2 to North Macedonia in a World Cup qualifier this March, Germany, under Loew, have gone from bad to worse. The loss to North Macedonia was their first in World Cup qualifiers since the 1-5 drubbing England had given way back in 2001. In Russia three years ago they could not clear the group stage. So has the epitaph been already written? Or, because it’s Germany, you dare not ignore them? “When the going gets tough, the Germans get going,” they say. History is replete with German fightbacks, be it the 1954 World Cup final or the 1974 final against Johan Cruyff or the 1982 World Cup semi-final against France and a repeat four years later. And who can forget the 7-1 rout of Brazil in 2014? But it’s a fact that if current form of the senior team is any indicator, they do not have much chance in this Euro too.
If Loew wants he can field a team just from Chelsea and Bayern Munich, the winners of the last two Champions League editions. Instead of having trust in younger players, Loew has reposed faith in Thomas Mueller, Mat Hummels, Christian Gunter and Kevin Volland. Gunter last played as a substitute seven years back and Volland makes a comeback to the national team after six years. But still, this a highly talented side. Toni Kroos will be there and he will hopefully be fit to play after recovering from Covid-19. Then there is a clutch of talented players who give German fans hope for a better future. The likes of Kai Havertz, Joshua Kimmich, Timo Werner, Serge Gnabry are ready to rock.
What’s in store?
Placed in a group which also have France, Portugal and Hungary, Germany have a mountain to climb. “I think they can be out in the group phase. It can happen. But, if they go through the group phase, they can go all the way,” Mourinho predicted. Arsene Wenger though thinks differently. “Honestly I am not very confident for Germany… They do not have the stability and lost the belief.”
⚫ Placed in Group F with France, Hungary and Portugal
⚫ Euro record: Champions 1972, 1980, 1996
⚫ Euro 2016 finish: Lost to France in the semi-finals