Italy, a country ravaged by the coronavirus, has found comfort in patriotism. They will also be more competitive at the delayed Euro 2021.
The Italians have had their share of success when it comes to international soccer. Four World Cups, one as recently as 2006, and a single European Championship are the five major tournaments in the Azzurri’s trophy case. Along the way, they produced exceptional players like Dino Zoff, Roberto Baggio and Fabio Cannavaro.
With Italy (and now much of the world) in the grips of a coronavirus pandemic, the European Championship was postponed a year to the summer of 2021. Italy, one of the hosts and a participant, was among the favorites going into the tournament. After the grim reality of COVID-19, don’t be surprised if the team comes out with a never-before-seen fervor to lift the trophy.
“I adapt to everything because the most important thing is to protect health,” Italy coach Roberto Mancini said in a recent interview with Italian state broadcaster RAI. “We can’t lose human lives.”
On Italy’s chances of winning it all had the tournament been played this summer? Mancini replied, “We would have won this year. We’ll win next year.”
Back in November, after Italy breezed through qualification, Mancini had insisted Italy were not among the favorites. The past few weeks, which has seen the death of thousands of the country’s citizens, has changed Mancini’s outlook. He isn’t alone. This is a country that will try to combat adversity and despair with wins on the soccer field.
Italy had rebuilt their team after failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. It was Mancini who made the team great again. These days, the national psyche has been scarred by the deadly virus. The halting of Serie A and interruption to normal, everyday life will need to be repaired. Soccer is, and has been, the one national symbol of unity. It has also been a perfect anecdote in the past and very likely will be on in the future.
Indeed, Italy’s newfound patriotism (people have been singing the national anthem and waving flags from their balconies and rooftops in recent weeks) will only erupt further at the Euros. Italy, after all, had been scheduled to open the competition this coming June 12 against Turkey at Rome’s Olympic Stadium. The date may change, but the teams and venue will not. Look for that day, whenever it will be, to be one of the biggest in the country’s history.
The Italians have proven victorious through adversity in the past. The team won the 1982 World Cup at a time when the country was dealing with domestic left-wing terrorists who routinely robbed banks, kidnapped people and murdered others.
In 2006, under a different set of circumstances, Italy won the World Cup just weeks after a bribery scandal known as Calciopoli (with Juventus in the center of it) rocked the country and brought ill-repute and shame on a domestic competition once considered the best on the planet. Again, the Azzurri got the job done.
There is still a lot of time between now and the summer of 2021. Patriotism aside, an extra year could help several nations prepare for 2021 such as England. It could also weigh favorably for Mancini, who now has a chance to look at other players for a spot on his 23-man roster. In February, before the pandemic, Mancini had said the roster had been set. Not anymore.
Once Serie A resumes (what that looks like and a date remain question marks), Mancini will get another look at players who had been having a poor and mediocre season. Strikers like Fiorentina’s Federico Chiesa and Torino’s Andrea Belotti, both in the midst of mediocre seasons, could come under consideration should they score more goals next season.
There are also players like strikers Sebastian Giovinco and Moise Kean, currently out of Mancini’s plans, who could make a strong case for themselves in the coming months. Both play far from Serie A: Giovinco with Saudi Arabian club Al Hilal; Kean with English side Everton.
With a deep talent pool, a lot now remains to be decided.
Nevertheless, for Mancini and all of Italy, life returning to normal as well as the next Euros can’t start soon enough.
“I can’t wait to stand in front of the bench and listen to the national anthem play out,” he said. “After everything the country is going through, it’s going to be an immense sensation.”
And even if the Italians don’t win it all, that sensation will be a victory in itself.
For more information about COVID-19, visit the CDC’s website or the website for your state’s Department of Health.