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New-look Azzurri attempts to retain Euro crown


Italy enters Euro 2024 looking to do something that has only been done once before in the 64-year history of the tournament: retain their title.

After winning Euro 2008, Spain became the first and only squad to date to win back-to-back tournaments, claiming the 2012 edition with a 4-0 thrashing of the Azzurri in the final.

Knowing that it can be done will buoy Italy’s spirits headed into the tourney, but make no mistake here – Italy is not running it back. Not only is manager Roberto Mancini gone, but so is a majority of the roster that claimed glory in London three summers ago. In fact, only 10 players from the Wembley triumph return. If Italy is to repeat, it will be with a brand new iteration of the Azzurri. They will have their work cut out for them, though, in a very tough Group B that also features La Roja, Croatia and Albania.

A Premier League winner with Manchester City and a three-time Scudetto winner with Inter, Mancini resigned as manager of the Azzurri in the summer of 2023 after a five-year spell in charge that saw the team miss out on qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. It marked the first time ever that Italy had failed to qualify for consecutive World Cups. Days after his resignation, Mancini took over as manager of Saudi Arabia.

In Mancini’s stead came Luciano Spalletti. The veteran manager took the helm of the national team only months after leading Napoli to its first Scudetto since 1990. Having previously managed at Roma, Zenit and Inter, it marked the first time Spalletti had coached a national side.

ContentId(1.1666722): Italy's evolution over three-year period culminates with European Championship

Spalletti makes his mark

Spalletti has demonstrated a willingness to experiment with tactics in his time with the Azzurri. Winning Serie A at Napoli with a 4-3-3, Spalletti initially installed that formation with Italy, but has since experimented with both a 4-4-2 and a 3-5-2. Spalletti believes there is no room for rigidity in the modern game and plans to continually adapt based on opponent and situation. It’s with that mindset that he named his 30-man preliminary squad.

Euro 2020 was a coming-out party for Gianluigi Donnarumma. The best goalkeeping prospect of a generation, Donnarumma made his senior debut for Milan in 2015 at the age of 16 and received his first cap a year later. The heir apparent to the iconic Gianluigi Buffon, Donnarumma seized the Azzurri’s No. 1 shirt in 2018 upon his retirement and hasn’t let go.

Three years ago, Donnarumma was named the goalkeeper in the Best XI of Euro 2020 and for good reason. He starred in the final, making stops on both Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka in the shootout against England to help claim the trophy for the Azzurri. Now 25 and already with 61 caps under his belt, the Paris Saint-Germain man will be the general at the back for Italy in Germany.

Joining Donnarumma will be Napoli’s Alex Meret, returning from the Euro squad, Guglielmo Vicario of Tottenham Hotspur and the uncapped Ivan Provedel of Lazio, who could be in line to make a tournament roster for the first time at the age of 30.

As important as Donnarumma’s play was to Italy’s win in 2021, the victory wouldn’t have been possible without central defenders Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci turning back the clock and putting on a performance for the ages. At 36 and 34, respectively, the Juventus duo was rock solid as they come and ensured that Donnarumma had the utmost support in front of him.

Neither man will be in Germany. Captain Chiellini retired from international football in 2022 and retired altogether at the end of the 2023 Los Angeles FC campaign. Bonucci inherited the armband from Chiellini and appeared for Italy through the summer of 2023. Splitting last season between Union Berlin and Fenerbahce, Bonucci announced his retirement from football in late May.

Of the 11 players named to Spalletti’s defensive corps, only three return from Euro 2020. At 36, Inter’s Francesco Acerbi is the veteran of the crew, but his inclusion comes as a bit of a surprise. In the spring, Acerbi was accused of using a racial slur towards Napoli’s Juan Jesus. In the aftermath, Spalletti sent him home from camp ahead of friendlies with Venezuela and Ecuador. The Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio would clear Acerbi, with Italian football’s governing body citing a lack of evidence. The call-up to the preliminary squad marks Acerbi’s return to the national setup.  Also returning from Euro 2020 are Inter’s Alessandro Bastoni, coming off of a tremendous season, and Giovanni Di Lorenzo from Napoli.

If Bastoni is the logical choice to claim one of the two starting centre-back positions, current form might force Spalletti to turn to inexperience for the other. Bologna’s 22-year-old Riccardo Calafiori was among the best centre-backs in Serie A this past season and helped the Rossoblu qualify for European football for the first time since 2000 with a fifth-place finish. Uncapped, he’s been named to the squad and could see game action. Capped only three times, Torino’s Alessandro Buongiorno’s strong play also puts him in contention for that centre-back role.

Rounding out the rest of the mostly youthful backline are Federico Dimarco of Inter, Roma’s Gianluca Mancini, 20-year-old Giorgio Scalvini of Atalanta, Juve’s Andrea Cambiaso, Raoul Bellanova of Torino and the returning Matteo Darmian. Inter’s former Manchester United defender received his first call-up to the national team last fall after a six-year absence. Darmian, 34, previously appeared at both the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016. There was no room, though, for Atalanta’s versatile Davide Zappacosta and Spurs’ Destiny Udogie misses out with injury.

Fagioli in the spotlight

The biggest surprise inclusion in the midfield – and maybe in the entire roster – is that of Nicolo Fagioli. The 23-year-old Juve youth product has a single cap to his name from a 2022 friendly against Albania, but international inexperience isn’t why his selection raises eyebrows. Fagioli just completed a seven-month ban for gambling offences, returning to play for the Bianconeri on May 21. A lack of playing time for Fagioli could be the biggest impediment to him making the final roster.

Like there is at the back, the turnover from Euro 2020 is greatly apparent in the midfield with Arsenal’s Jorginho, Nicolo Barella of Inter, Juve’s Federico Chiesa and Roma’s Bryan Cristante, who holds a Canadian passport through his father, the lone holdovers from the squad. Joining them are Roma’s Lorenzo Pellegrini, who missed out on the last Euro through injury, Davide Frattesi of Inter, Torino’s Samuele Ricci and the uncapped Michael Folorunsho of Hellas Verona.

The lack of Federico Bernardeschi and Marco Verratti on the roster is unsurprising when you consider how the Azzurri has traditionally operated. Very seldomly have Italy managers selected players from outside of Serie A, and when they do, they almost always come from another top league in Europe.

When Sebastian Giovinco was tearing up Major League Soccer with Toronto FC en route to an MVP and league title, Antonio Conte left him off of the Euro 2016 roster, claiming that the level of play in MLS didn’t pass muster. Conte’s successor, Gian Piero Ventura, said MLS “doesn’t count for much.” So, with Bernardeschi now at Toronto FC and former PSG man Verratti plying his trade for Qatari side Al-Arabi, it’s no surprise to see them overlooked.

Manuel Locatelli’s absence is a surprise, though. While the Juve midfielder admittedly didn’t have his best season for the Bianconeri, he was a key contributor in 2021 and was widely expected to be named on Spalletti’s roster. Locatelli seemingly reacted to the snub by posting a black square on Instagram.

Up front, only Napoli’s Giacomo Raspadori returns from Euro 2020. Now playing with Bernardeschi for the Reds, Lorenzo Insigne’s absence is not unexpected. Andrea Belotti hasn’t been recalled to the Azzurri since 2022 and had a modest four goals this season split between Roma and Fiorentina. Winger Domenico Berardi of Sassuolo wasn’t on any of Spalletti’s previous rosters and a nine-goal output in 2023-2024 didn’t change his mind. The only real surprise omission by Spalletti might be Ciro Immobile, but even that one is defensible with the 34-year-old Lazio captain scoring just seven goals, his lowest tally in a decade.

Making up the new-look forward corps are Bologna’s Riccardo Orsolini, Mateo Retegui of Genoa, Lazio’s Matteo Zaccagni, former West Ham striker Gianluca Scamacca of Atalanta and Stephan El Shaarawy. Now 31, the Roma man received his first senior cap at the age of 19 and has been in and out of the Azzurri setup since. Capped 31 times, this could be El Shaarawy’s first major tournament appearance since Euro 2016.

Spalletti still has work to do before his team goes to Germany. Four players will need to be cut from this preliminary squad, taking the final roster down to 26. He will have the chance to get a feel for his team through friendlies with Turkey on June 4 and Bosnia and Herzegovina on June 9.

Italy’s Euro campaign gets underway on June 15 against Albania.