The coach in his first game against the one who took the World Cup from us: preparations, words and what to expect
– Skopje (North Macedonia)
Forming a national team in five days seemed to be a sufficiently high coefficient of difficulty, and instead fraudulent fate raised the bar even higher yesterday: a muscle strain left Federico Chiesa, the offensive icon of Italy’s 2021 European Championship champions, one of the most experienced and fittest Italians, knocked out, the only one in the squad to score twice in the first three games of the league. Today’s debut at the Tose Proeski Arena in Skopje will not be a trivial one for Luciano Spalletti, exactly a week after the official introduction as the new coach of the national team. The environment shocked by Roberto Mancini’s treacherous resignation; the race against time to outfit troops with tactical survival gear; the need to get a result against Ukraine at San Siro tonight and Tuesday to secure at least second place, considering England have already escaped; an opponent, North Macedonia, which inevitably sounds worrying after the joke they played on us in Palermo in March 2022 that cost us the World Cup. Trajkovski, the favorite’s executioner, will face Donnarumma again tonight. It won’t be a picnic.
However, it must be noted that the lens of the trauma suffered tends to magnify Macedonia, which after the historic victory in Palermo lost 8 out of 15 games, winning only against Far Oer, Malta and Gibraltar. In their last game in June at Old Trafford, they were overwhelmed by 7 English goals. They have good players, especially Bardhi, Trabzonspor’s technical midfielder, the Neapolitan Elmas, whom Spalletti described yesterday as “a son”, and Nestorovski (Ascoli). Trajkovski, the bogeyman, is now an absentee player after his experience in Arabia. Milevski’s 3-5-2 collapsed like a pig’s hut at the first touch of Kane: 7 goals conceded between the 29th and 73rd minutes. Tonight, Macedonia will probably dare a little more (4-3-3), thanks to its fans and a pitch that hinders technology (“It’s dangerous, full of potholes,” warned Immobile), but the national team, which is the 68th level occupies place in the FIFA rankings, behind Cape Verde and Iceland. And let us not forget that on this painful, emergency-filled eve, Gigi Buffon began his new role as head of delegation. A legendary career taught him to parry tensions and inspire his younger teammates. Yesterday Buffon watched Spalletti’s conference from a distance. Luciano gave him a thought: “A week was enough to become friends. Thanks, Gigi.”
What can we expect from Italy tonight? First of all, goals, because without them you don’t win. In Palermo, 34 shots were not enough for one, a shot into an empty goal was not enough (Berardi). The center forward was Immobile, like in the apocalyptic play-off against Sweden, like against Uruguay, who knocked us out of the 2014 World Cup. Ciro is the blue job, he experienced a series of biblical misfortunes, but he fought back, he did not. When he did not flee to Arabia, he bet on himself and today he is reaping the reward: he is Spalletti’s first 9, despite the left-handed Retegui and the growing shadow of Scamacca. With the award of the captain’s armband: “A pride for me and my family.” The blue shirt is a dream, the armband is incredible. A satisfaction because it was given to me by the coach and my teammates because of my human qualities, not because of the number of appearances. It’s a responsibility I’m happy to take on.” Spalletti’s obsessive drills in deep attack give Ciro hope that he can finally be the right man for Lazio, as he struggled to survive in Mancini’s more horizontal, dribbling-heavy Italy.
But before the goals we expect a new spirit. Immobile admitted: “After Macedonia something went through my mind. We needed a new player like Spalletti.” The first nail that the new coach drove into the Azzurri’s heads on Monday was this: pride in belonging, passion, the desire to shout out the happiness of being Azzurri. After five days of hammering, Spalletti presents the bill: “Now I want to see the right answers.” From young leaders like Barella and Tonali, but even more from players to whom it offers an important opportunity, like Mancini and Zaccagni. They must prove that they are “skilled” players. The coach explained what it means: doing important things at the right time and in the right context. Not just in the Thursday game. Skopje is the right context.
Football to love
Despite the minimal tactical training, we also expect a lot of fun. Barella gave Spalletti one of the best compliments you can give a coach: “He gave us some ideas.” Not heart-pounding or Al Pacino speeches, but ideas, rare commodities that reward the players’ intelligence and creativity. It’s okay to put your heart into it, but you also have to win the Italians’ hearts. Spalletti also reminded us of this yesterday, even though a win-at-all-costs game was imminent: “The result is a consequence of the attitude. We’re looking for football that you fall in love with.” The latest from the coach on the “field full of potholes”: “The pitch is going great, for us and for them.” That’s how you start winning: by throwing alibis into the stands.
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED