Italy and Spalletti at crossroads after Euros title defence disaster

"Unfortunately, sharpness and tempo makes the difference," said Spalletti.

Italy are once again staring into the footballing abyss after Saturday’s humbling exit from Euro 2024 at the hands of Switzerland, the defence of their continental title ending in embarrassing fashion.

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A shockingly one-sided tie in Berlin, where Italy won the 2006 World Cup, led to a dismal last-16 exit after Luciano Spalletti’s side had scraped through the group stage by the skin of their teeth.

Saturday’s limp defeat was one of the lowest points in the history of the four-time world champions and reigning kings of Europe, and the latest in a worryingly large number of recent humiliations, including missing out on the last two World Cups.

Italy were pinned back by the Swiss in the first half and after Ruben Vargas’ brilliant strike seconds after half-time they were easily held at arm’s length as they limped out of the tournament.

On Italy’s national broadcaster RAI the verdict was swift and brutal: “unacceptable”, “slow and predictable”, said disconsolate commentators.

After the match, Spalletti lamented to RAI how Vargas’ goal “took our legs out from under us” and said that his players didn’t come into the tournament in the right physical condition to compete.

He also suggested that Italy were affected by the heat in Berlin’s Olympiastadion, even though it didn’t stop the Swiss from performing at their best.

“Unfortunately, sharpness and tempo makes the difference,” said Spalletti.

“Right now, for too many reasons, we are unable to do anything more than this.”

It was not a convincing explanation for such disjointed performances over four matches and those comments followed a series of bizarre outbursts from Spalletti, who took the Italy job last summer with a huge amount of credit accrued after leading Napoli to a historic Serie A title.

– Painful exit –

Italian media are already questioning Spalletti’s position after less than a year in charge, so bad was his team’s showing in Germany and so confusing his constant chopping and changing of line-ups and formations.

World Cup 2026 qualifiers begin in September and after Saturday’s post-match press conference journalists were informed that Spalletti would have discussions with Italy’s football federation on Sunday to “take stock” before another conference with reporters.

But Spalletti refused to directly address his future, only saying vaguely that “we need to change things” and taking it in turns to take responsibility and then blame outside factors.

“I take responsibility for what happened, the players are mine, I chose them. I’m not happy with how we played today nor am I happy with how we played against Spain,” said Spalletti.

He added: “All of the other coaches had 20 games in charge, some had 30, before the Euros, I only had 10… We also had a number of players who sustained injuries, players I was counting on.”

Spalletti’s new-look side had come into the tournament as a work in progress and there were promising signs from their opening 2-1 win over Albania.

However, things rapidly went downhill with a single-goal thumping at the hands of Spain, in which goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma kept the score respectable, and it took a 98th-minute equaliser against Croatia to send Italy through.

Captain Donnarumma was Italy’s only real bright spot at what was otherwise a miserable tournament and he was visibly upset at the nature of Italy’s elimination.

“It hurts, it really hurts. We can only say sorry to everyone, we were disappointing today and they deserved to win,” said Donnarumma.

“It’s difficult to digest but that’s how it went, we can’t do anything about it.”

His apologies fell on deaf ears however as angry fans in the stands unloaded their frustration on a team which enters yet another period of transition and soul-searching.

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