The dramatic shootout between two European powerhouses ended in breaking Italian hearts but the manner in which Antonio Conte’s men bowed out has made Italians proud of their national team. While nobody even gave them a chance to make it to the last 16. Forget about knocking the Spain national team that stood in their way, this team leaves with the reputation of Italian football exponentially enhanced.
Italy’s run ends, but Italians have never been so proud
A Glorious chapter in Conte’s legacy
This, if one recalls, was dubbed as the “Weakest Italian team ever”. While there was a modicum of truth in such sentiments,it was a mark of certain distrust in Conte’s capabilities too. This was a man which had picked up a fallen giant in 2011 and guided them straight to the pinnacle of Italian football in only his first season in charge. After guiding the Old Lady of Turin to three consecutive Scudetti, his stock had risen sky-high and he was tipped to join a big club after his acrimonious exit from Juventus. Very much in his prime, he surprised everyone by taking over from Cesare Prandelli as the head coach of Italian national team.With the lack of talent at his disposal, it was thought to be a tough ask from him to build a credible challenge not only in the qualifiers but also in the Euros. With both Milan giants, Inter Milan and AC Milan struggling badly in Serie A, there were very few young players he could count on.
It was a team with plenty of veterans that he arrived with in France, but it’s also the teams of world class fighters, the players who would die than hold an iota of effort back on the pitch and therein lies Conte’s legacy with the national team. A strong sense of self-belief and bonding second to none, this team won admiration of pundits and journalists alike. While he may be heading to one of the most notoriously demanding clubs in the world where even the likes of Carlo Ancelotti never survived till third season, he goes knowing fully aware that another golden chapter has been added in his rich managerial legacy.
Buffon, Bonucci and Giaccherini: From Underdogs to feared opponents
When the Italians had arrived, nobody spared a thought for their legacies and their achievements. While GIaccherini was a relatively unknown commodity, the likes of Buffon , Bonucci, Barzagli and Chiellini are proven winners with Juventus. But the odds handed out to them were harsh to put it mildly. Buffon, though, has been there before. At the receiving end of Bayern supremo Karl-Heinz Rummenigge’s impertinence, who infamously compared him to a “Pensioner” , he knows the fickle nature of public opinion. However, on the eve of their clash with the germans,the experts had agreed on one thing: While Manuel Neuer may be the best goalkeeper right now, to compare him to Buffon would be nothing short of disrespect to the decorated veteran.
Bonucci, Barzagli and Chiellini too have seen the stocks soar in the past few days. Graziano Pelle, who was considered not good enough to lead Southampton’s attack in last few months in the premier league, he carried out all the orders Conte instructed and would not be far behind in being included in the national team again in future for World cup, fitness and form permitting. The same can be said of his other teammates too. To be not considered as World class is always a bitter pill to swallow, and these players have been reminded of the fact time and again. But their performances in this edition of Euros has rescinded the voices of any remaining detractors they had.
The Future: Where does it lead?
With Giampiero Ventura set take over the Azzuri, the World cup qualifiers will give us a clearer picture of this team’s future. To carry this momentum in the qualifiers would be immensely beneficial to the incoming coach. And he may well have jotted down some things to keep intact in this team. But one thing is certain, the foundations, in terms of belief and camaraderie have been laid by Conte. And it would take blunders on the part of Ventura to scupper the qualifying campaign. It looks highly unlikely though.