Moment of truth for Italy as Euro begins

Italy take on Albania in first of three clashes in a difficult Group B

REUTERS June 15, 2024
Scotland fans gather in Munich ahead of tomorrow’s match against Germany. PHOTO: REUTERS



Italy kick off their European Championship title defence against Albania on Saturday as a new-look team tries to rebuild the reputation of one of the world’s most important football nations.
Luciano Spalletti’s Italy take on Albania in Dortmund in the first of three clashes in a fiendishly difficult Group B which also contains Spain and Croatia.
And those two later fixtures make Saturday’s hugely important, as with the four best third-place finishers in the six groups reaching the knockout stages, a win over Albania would give Italy a great chance of going through. Italy come into the tournament in quietly confident mood, with delegation chief Gianluigi Buffon insisting that the Azzurri are “an underrated team” despite being holders and four-time World Cup winners.
Buffon was one of the stars of the show when Italy won the 2006 World Cup in Germany, when a golden generation of players including Francesco Totti, Alessandro Del Piero, Andrea Pirlo and Fabio Cannavaro took their country to one of its greatest ever football triumphs.
Since then the national team has been going through something of an identity crisis, unsure of its position in the global game and no longer feared as in decades past.
Italy might be reigning champions but after winning the last Euros three years ago they missed out on qualification for a second straight World Cup.
And qualification for this summer’s Euros, which begins on Friday, was complicated by Spalletti’s predecessor Roberto Mancini jumping ship to Saudi Arabia in August last year.
Spalletti has been entrusted to guide his nation out of another bout of deep soul searching and he has done so by casting aside the team which became national heroes by beating England at Wembley in the Euro 2020 final.
“I can see that we have players in the squad who will become future greats. They have the quality,” Federico Chiesa said on Thursday in an interview with UEFA.
“We want to show what we’re made of at the Euros. Let’s see what we can do.”
Juventus forward Chiesa is one of the few graduates of the victory in 2021 still assured of a starting place, alongside Nicolo Barella, assuming he recovers in time from a thigh injury.
Spalletti is also sweating on the fitness of Barella’s Inter Milan teammate Davide Frattesi, who scored Italy’s only goal in Sunday’s encouraging warm-up win over Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Albania meanwhile are taking part in just their second Euros and the Eagles will be swept along by the enthusiasm of their supporters.
Armand Duka, the head of Albania’s football federation, claimed in an interview with Sky that “more than half” of the Westfalenstadion will be taken up by his countrymen.
And with 10 of Sylvinho’s squad playing in Italy, there will be plenty of familiar faces for the Azzurri to deal with.
“Italy will be a special match. In Dortmund we will play probably the most important match of our lives,” said Duka.
“We’d be delighted to get out of the group, but we’ll be happy in any case just to have taken part in the Euros.” AFP
Netherlands, Poland limp into Euro 2024
Stripped of their leading lights, the Netherlands and Poland limp to the start line at the European Championship on Sunday when they begin their Group D campaign in Hamburg. The Dutch must do without playmaker Frenkie de Jong due to an ankle injury and Poland talisman Robert Lewandowski will also miss the opening game.
Poland were already without right back Matty Cash and striker Arkadiusz Milik when forward Karol Swiderski hurt his ankle while celebrating the opening goal in Monday’s friendly against Turkey. He and Lewandowski should, however, be fit for the second group game against Austria.
The Dutch injury list also includes Europa League winners Marten de Roon and Teun Koopmeiners as well as defender Sven Botman. “In principle we still have a strong squad now,” Netherlands coach Ronald Koeman said. “I think that we have been a little unlucky with quite a few injuries during the past year and also for sure a lot of injuries to players who were more than valuable for the national team.”
With matches to come against Austria and France, Sunday’s game is viewed as a must-win for both teams. “The fact that we are seen as underdogs can work to our advantage. Everyone thinks that France and the Netherlands are the favourites in our group. Because few people count on us, we feel little pressure. That is more a signal to show that we have a good team,” said Poland midfielder Jakub Moder. The Dutch are unbeaten in their last 12 meetings with Poland, last losing to them in 1979.


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