International football action resumes for the first time since the Qatar World Cup in December, as the nations gear up to battle it out in the qualifiers for upcoming tournaments. Italy and England go up against each other on Thursday night in the first game of the Euro 2024 Qualifiers.
The Italian national football team were tipped to be one of the teams to watch out for in the latest World Cup after their storming run to the Euro title in 2021. However, what followed was a disastrous two years as Gil Azzurri failed to even qualify for the premier world football tournament. It was the second consecutive time they failed to qualify for the World Cup having missed out on the 2018 World Cup as well. It left the nation shell shocked and are now seeking redemption in Euros. They have a tough road ahead of them but Italy will be determined to make things right after their horror showing at the World Cup qualifiers.
England had a decent run in the World Cup in Qatar, making it all the way to the semi-finals, losing out to eventual runner-ups France. Many criticized Gareth Southgate’s in-game management and his choice of substitutes, as England were eliminated in the semis of the World Cup for a second-time running.
Under Southgate, it has always been the case of close but no cigar for the Three Lions, having come close to winning a first trophy since 1966 on three separate occasions. There have been questions over Southgate’s tenure and many have called for his head, but it seems the 52-year-old will be staying in the hot seat for now. The Euro 2024 have been touted as one of the best opportunities for the Three Lions to end their trophy drought, given the plethora of talent and quality they have in their ranks, and the road to the title starts on Thursday with a familiar foe.
WHEN & WHERE?
Date: Thursday, 23rd March 2023.
Time: 7.45 pm GMT
Venue: Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, Naples, Italy.
Referee: Srdjan Jovanović.
Assistants: Uroš Stojković, Milan Mihajlović.
Fourth official: Novak Simović.
VAR: Tomasz Kwiatkowski.
Assistant VAR: Piotr Lasyk.
Italy coach Roberto Mancini has had an injury headache to deal with in the last few days as key players have withdrawn from the camp. Star winger Federico Chiesa was the most notable among them with defender Federico Dimarco and goalkeeper Ivan Provedel also pulling out of the national team through injuries. Emerson Palmieri and Marco Carnesecchi have been called up in the aftermath to replace them. There is also a first national team call-up for striker Mateo Retegui, who had the option of playing for either Argentina or Italy and chose the latter.
England have had a similar story to their opponents on Thursday night, with inform forward Marcus Rashford pulling out of camp with a knock. Similarly, midfielder Mason Mount and goalkeeper Nick Pope have also left camp with injuries, but Southgate has chosen to replace only the latter, with Fraser Forster filling in for Pope. Ivan Toney has been included in the squad and he will be hoping this could be the time he finally gets to make his long awaited international debut.
England face an Italian side that has given them a lot of trouble and heartbreak over the past few years. The two sides met in a very entertaining Euro 2021 final at Wembley, which the Englishmen led by a goal to nil for the majority of the game, before the Italians levelled scores late on. The game then went to penalties and what followed was grief for the home side and jubilation for Gil Azzurri.
Three Lions took time to recover and the sides met again, this time in a less crucial but still important Nations League tie. The Italians prevailed yet again, dumping England to the second tier of the UEFA Nations League. The fact that Italy did not qualify for the World Cup will have provided little solace to the England team and fans, but the rivalries are set to be ignited once again on Thursday night as the two sides face off yet again.
Italian media that was allowed to watch Roberto Mancini’s men train reported that the coach tried out three different starting 11 with a few tweaks to the formation each time. Mancini himself confirmed that he will be going with either a 4-3-3 or a 3-5-2 formation. With the attacking department light in experience, Domenico Berardi is expected to start on the right, with a possible debut for Retegui on the cards. Gianluca Scamacca is an option for Retegui, but the West Ham man is just returning from an injury and could feature only from the bench.
On the other hand, Gareth Southgate will be considering his options against a side that has got the better of him twice before. On both those occasions, he lined up with a 3-4-2-1 formation, in an effort to counter the notoriously staunch Italian defense. It will be intriguing to see what the coach goes with this time and if he lines up with four or three at the back.
The odds are against England heading into what has been termed as a classic tie by both coaches. England have not won in Italy since 1961, a record spanning more than 6 decades. Under Gareth Southgate, a victory against Gil Azzurri has eluded them so far, with the two nations facing each other four times since his appointment, and England losing two and drawing two. Their last game against each other was a 1-0 win for the Italians at home, and the Three Lions will be desperate to break their miserable streak against the home favourites in what will be an iconic fixture at an iconic venue.
With no Federico Chiesa, Ciro Immobile or Giacomo Raspadori in the Italy national team, Berardi will be tasked with being the shining light for a relatively inexperienced Italian attack. He has been in good form for Sassuolo in Serie A, scoring 7 goals and assisting 5 in 17 appearances in all competitions. He has scored in his last two games and is one of the best Italian attackers on current form. Mancini will be hoping he can link up well with Giovanni Di Lorenzo on the right flank, and provide some much-needed attacking threat against a well-settled English defense.
The England captain is just one strike away from becoming the all-time record goalscorer for his country, breaking the previous record held by Wayne Rooney. Kane was culpable for missing a crucial penalty that could have levelled scores against France in the World Cup semis, sending England out of the tournament. Southgate has insisted that the striker has put the disappointment behind him and is extra motivated to become the record holder for his country.
Italy lineup vs England: Gianluigi Donnarumma; Giovanni Di Lorenzo, Francesco Acerbi, Alessio Romagnoli, Leonardo Spinazzola; Nicolo Barella, Marco Verratti, Jorginho; Domenico Berardi, Mateo Retegui, Vincenzo Grifo.
England lineup vs Italy: Jordan Pickford; Kyle Walker, John Stones, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw; Jordan Henderson, Declan Rice, Jude Bellingham; Bukayo Saka, Harry Kane, Jack Grealish.