If what they say about the death is true, on Thursday night, as the 92nd minute ticked away at the Renzo Barbera stadium in Palermo, the Nazionale must have seen a trail of stunning footage from its parade of the past decades. That return to Sarrià against Brazil with goals from Paolo Rossi that preceded the 1982 World Cup victory in Spain; the spoon from another planet with which Totti submitted Van der Sar to the 2000 European Championship; also the Berlin World Cup won at the Olympiastadiom on penalties against France; and the European Championship raised with all the merit in the world at Wembley last July. A memory so recent and dazzling that it now blinds any analysis of what happened on Thursday, the defeat in Palermo against Macedonia (0-1) which leaves the quadruple world champion without the option of going to Qatar.
Italy, for the first time in history, is absent from two consecutive World Cups. It had never happened and no one would have ever thought they would have to see it. If all goes well for La Azzurra now, the Italians will not have set foot on the lawn of a World Cup from 2014 to 2026: 12 years. A whole generation of children and teenagers without memories of the World Cup. Also great footballers, like the fantastic Marco Verratti, who was able to retire with only two games in a World Cup (that of Brazil in 2014) when he was 21 years old. A time when for many, what I miss is to see the Nazionale again in the World Cup and not the other way around. And in a footballing nation built on feelings like no other, today is the wound the country is bleeding from. A curse that no one could explain this Friday morning in footballing terms and to which they only managed to give him the name of Trajkovski on Thursday evening, the Macedonian player who played in Palermo and who had already sent Italy in the playoffs in 2018.
La Nazionale have won just two games (against Lithuania in World Cup qualifiers and Belgium in the Nations League) since lifting the European Championship in July. And that already says a lot. The string of draws and losses was marred by incomprehensible errors and a bit of bad luck. A large sector of analysts and tifosi coincide by invoking the idea of an accident to explain what happened. Thursday’s disaster against North Macedonia, number 67 of the ranking According to some, FIFA was just a matter of bad luck. Italy did not beat Bulgaria (tied) or Switzerland, against whom Jorginho, for whom half of Europe claimed the Ballon d’Or a few months ago, missed two penalties: one in the match first leg and one in the return match. Something similar was seen again in Palermo. Berardi, for example, is fabulous this year with Sassuolo: he has 14 goals and 11 assists. But this time, the inexplicable failed.
The European Championship, many are now pointing out, was an island that only adds noise to the analysis that must be made after the new elimination. A state of mind that the team managed to roll exceptionally and after which there was nothing solid to hold on to. It is true that key players like Spinazzola or Chiesa are missing. But it’s not just these last two global eliminations. In the two previous championships in which he participated (2010 and 2014), he failed to pass the first round. The urgent footballing explanation for what happened on Thursday is that most of the team’s lines are solid, but the attack is not working. Mancini’s Nazionale have no defensive problems and have a quality midfield with players like Verratti and Jorginho. But it doesn’t mark. Immobile, top scorer in Serie A with 21 goals, is a paranormal phenomenon in the national team. Badge has nothing to do with Napoli. And the majority of the league championship strikers are foreigners.
The defeat also cruelly exposes a country’s lack of identification with its national team and the situation of institutional breakdown in Italian football. That of a whole system that does not work. The federation asked the League a few weeks ago to allow the selected players to concentrate a week before the crucial match against Macedonia, but Serie A refused. One more time. The isolation and lack of collaboration stand out even more in light of the lack of results also in club competition, where no European team has lifted a trophy since 2010, when Mourinho’s Inter won the Champions League . “We are reaping what we have sown in recent years. In 2018 it was Ventura’s fault and now Mancini’s. But if we continue to think like this, we won’t get anywhere. Against Macedonia they lacked fit players”, lamented Arrigo Sacchi in the Gazzetta dello Sport.
Italy will now have time to remember its deeds and think about how to put back together an entire broken system that abandoned quarries. The players want Mancini himself to lead the rebuild, but the coach doesn’t seem to have a tailwind. Fabio Cannavaro (captain of 2006 world champion Italy) and Marcello Lippi (coach of the same team in 2006) are ready to replace him. The problem is that the echo of the names that sound now comes from the memory of these old Nazionale companies. And at this point, it’s almost impossible to tell whether they also belong to the future or, simply, are part of this funeral parade of past images of an entire football system.
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