Entering the November international break, questions continue to surround the Italy National Team and its status in Euro 2024. The four-time World Cup champions and defending European Championship winners are at risk of missing another major tournament.
Italy failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. That was the first time the Italians missed the World Cup in 60 years. Four years later, Italy crashed out in the playoff stage against North Macedonia. Italy missed back-to-back World Cups. Now, the Italians face two tests to reach Euro 2024. After six games, Italy sits third in its Euro 2024 qualifying group. Only the top two teams qualify automatically.
If Italy succumbs to that same fate for a 32-team European Championship, it would arguably be the biggest disaster of the bunch. Moreover, Italy is the defending champion. Only three defending champions have not qualified for the next competition four years later. Spain failed in 1968 and Italy did so as well in 1972. At the time, there were just four teams in the competition. The most recent edition was France in 1988. Just eight teams competed in that tournament. Therefore, it would be an unmatched disaster given Italy’s recent spell of failing in qualification for major tournaments.
The consequences for Italy of missing another major tournament
After Italy did not reach Qatar 2022, the federation did not make considerable changes. Roberto Mancini retained his job. However, he had some leeway because of his success at Euro 2020. Mancini stepped away from his post. Gabriele Gravina is the FIGC President, and he oversees the Italian soccer federation. He joined at the same time as Mancini when Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup in 2018. He has been the head executive for both the Euro 2020 win and the World Cup 2022 disaster.
Struggling in Euro 2024 already led to Mancini stepping away from the national team. Gravina would be the next to be shown the door. Yet, executives and coaches leaving the federation are nothing new. Nations make those changes regularly and for much less than what Italy is going through.
The effects of Italy failing to qualify would run far deeper. At the time of missing the 2022 World Cup, Gazzetta dello Sport wrote the entire system of Italian soccer needed a rebuild. Of course, that did not come. Italy rode with the same squad that won Euro 2020. The punishment for that is potentially missing another major tournament.
Comparing the Italians to other nations
The current system in Italy does not have a wealth of youth talents rising through the ranks and playing at elite levels in Europe. France has a never-ending supply of great players. For example, France called up 11 players aged 25 or younger, which includes Kylian Mbappe, William Saliba, and Eduardo Camavinga, who each dominate in different leagues across Europe. Italy also has 11 players aged 25 or younger. However, there are no players that stand out as world-beaters. The player with the most goals in the November international break squad is 26-year-old Nicolo Barella. He has eight goals in 49 caps from the midfield.
In a moment of a must-win situation, Italy does not have a player it can turn to when it needs a heroic performance. Moreover, it does not have a standout promising young talent that can develop in a pressure situation like this to ensure Italy can reach the World Cup in 2026. Even though that is in the future, it demonstrates the severity of the situation Italy finds itself in.
Euro 2024 qualifying is now do-or-die for Italy
Italy must qualify for Euro 2024. If it loses against Ukraine and the Ukrainians advance to the Euros, Italy will enter the Euro 2024 playoffs. That presents a somewhat convoluted path, and there is no guarantee over who Italy would play. However, based on standings entering the November international break, Italy would be in a four-team playoff with Croatia, Poland, and Estonia.
That is a nightmare situation for Italy with Poland and Croatia both reaching the knockout stage of the World Cup in 2022. Moreover, the playoffs did not go as planned in qualification for the World Cup in 2022. Italy was a heavy favorite against North Macedonia to qualify. Yet, it fell at home on a stoppage-time goal from Aleksandar Trajkovski.
A trip to Ukraine on the final matchday of Euro 2024 qualifying now has the importance of a World Cup knockout round game. The remaining two games will be like playoff games for Italy. That starts with a home game against North Macedonia.
North Macedonia is not in the running to reach Euro 2024 as it is mathematically eliminated. However, North Macedonia forced a draw out of Italy when the two played in Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia. This game in Rome is effectively a must-win game. Three points would bring Italy level with Ukraine in the group, but Italy owns the tiebreaker because Italy defeated Ukraine in the reverse fixture in Milan.
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