I want you to be honest here. When you put together a list for the favourites to win the Euro 2020, you definitely did not have Italy at the top!
And if you did, congratulations to you and good luck spending your lottery money as well!
As for the Azzurri, the journey to the apex of the European game has not been an easy one, but it surely was a great one.
So let us look at how they went from not being on the plane for the 2018 World Cup, to winning the Euros just three years later. Check the video of all Euro finals.
It is pretty damning that a national team that won the World Cup in 2006 would be in huge trouble just to qualify for the same tournament just twelve years later.
Well, it was precisely the problem Italy were facing after the departure of Antonio Conte.
Gian Piero Ventura was brought in to stabilise the ship and ensure that the Azzurri get back to the tournament that they won in 2006. Even though Italy won all of their qualifying matches except the matches against Macedonia and Spain, they finished runners-up in Group G of the World Cup qualifiers.
They had to get past Sweden to keep their World Cup dream alive. Unfortunately for the Azzurri, they lost 1-0, which meant that Italy would not be part of the biggest footballing event in the world for the first time since 1958.
This also brought curtains to the careers of stalwarts like Andrea Barzagli, Daniele de Rossi and Gianluigi Buffon.
That’s not all. Ventura also left the role as Italian manager and Carlo Tavecchio left the role as the Italian Football President. The future looked really bleak for the Azzurri.
But, cometh the hour, Cometh the man. Roberto Mancini looked to have discovered all the credentials that had once made him a Premier League champion with Manchester City.
After a successful rebuilding job at Inter Milan setting the platform for Conte to follow through, the former Italian looked set to restore Italian football to its former greatness.
And, the results under Mancini were better than many expected, since there was a bit of scepticism about the quality of the squad and the world cup failer. In fact, the new Azzurri leaded by Mancini, started winning match after match.
By the time the Euros came, Mancini’s men were enjoying a 30-match winning streak and were quietly building a momentum.
The 2012 runners-up started the tournament with the opening day win against Turkey.
In the entire group stage, Italians made a statement to the rest of Europe that their breathtaking counter-attacks and ability to close out matches will be very tough to overcome.
Titans like Chiellini and Bonucci made teams overcommit in attack and the Italians finished them off on the counter.
In the group stage, they did not concede a goal and scored seven themselves against Turkey, Switzerland and Wales respectively.
The Italians only improved their level in the knockout stages. Even though they remained goalless in 90 minutes against Austria, Federico Chiesa and Matteo Pessina stepped up to the plate to make the difference in extra-time.
They conceded a goal in the second half of extra-time, but they held firm to move into the quarter-finals for the third consecutive European Championships.
In the quarter-finals, they met Belgium, who were coming off a big win against defending champions, Portugal. Belgium, the first team in the Fifa ranking were not only the favorite for that match, but also for the tournament win, along France.
But the first half against Martinez’s men was probably the best half Italy had played under Mancini.
The goals which Nico Barrella and Lorenzo Insigne scored put Italy in the driver seat. Even though Lukaku halved the difference before half-time, Chiellini and Bonucci were the core of a magnificent defensive performance. They held out the likes of Lukaku and Kevin de Bruyne to ensure that they make the semi-finals.
The Spinazzola Injury
Another player that came to everyone’s mind after the win was Leonardo Spinazzola. The Roma full-back was arguably one of the best, if not the best player of the Azzurri until his injury against Belgium.
His dynamic game in both the attacking and defensive aspect made him one of the best prospects of Italy. In the 80th minute, the full-back suffered an Achilles tendon rupture, which shall sadly keep him out until the new year.
In the flight after the match, the entire Italian team were seen singing for Spinazzola. Leonardo Bonucci stated that despite the injury, Italians have it in them to go all the way and they will try to win it for him.
And as for Spinazzola, he stayed and watched every game cheering his teammates throughout the semi final and final.
The effects of him not being on the left-wing were seen in both the semi-final and finals though. However, the mentality and will of the Italians stood firm.
In the semi-finals, they avenged their 2012 final loss to Spain with a win on penalties. Federico Chiesa once again opened the scoring.
And even though Morata cancelled their advantage, Donnarumma was strong to keep out the Spaniard’s penalty in the shootout to get Italy to the final.
The Euro 2020 Final
The final against England at Wembley could not be not a walk in the park for any team. Italy were playing against a whole nation in the final.
Every touch of the ball from them was being booed. Every time they lost the ball, a huge cheer would greet them.
And the final couldn’t have started any worse for the Azzurri as Luke Shaw opened the scoring in the second minute.
However, Italians once again let their mentality do the talking as they dug in and scored the equaliser in the second half through Leonardo Bonucci.
With the pressure all on England after making a final in 55 years, Italians took advantage and clinched their second European Championship on penalties.
They say that tough times make tough people. And as for the Italians, that is exactly the case.
The tough circumstances they faced as a young group brought them together and prepared them to rise up to the occasion when other players crumble under the pressure.
As for the rest of us, this is a useful reminder never to disregard the Italians in any International tournament. They always find their way!