Italy started with the knife to their throat in Leverkusen. It had to fight a direct match against Ukraine – which had to move to Germany due to the war in its own country – for a European Championship ticket.
The Azzurri missed the World Cup in Qatar less than two years ago and, as defending champions, could not afford a second failure to participate in a major tournament.
Italy clearly fought against those flashbacks in the opening phase. But after a lot of shivering and shaking in the initial phase, the match gradually improved.
The new national coach Luciano Spalletti had promised the country in advance that it would fall in love with its national football heroes again. But despite combination football – which showed fragments of his reign at Napoli – the Italians could not convince in the zone of truth.
The Italian master tactician saw that his team – due to the lack of a goal – started to doubt themselves in the end and switched to a more conservative approach. Successfully. The tactical game of chess produced no spectacle, but also no more goals.
Although there was a real shock moment for the Italians in the absolute final phase. Bryan Cristante simply took down Mudryk Mykhayl in the large rectangle in the last minute. Penalty? No, despite the clear contact between the two, the referee waved the incident away.
A questionable decision with major consequences: Italy still goes to the European Championship, Ukraine is relegated to the play-offs.
Arsenal midfielder Oleksandr Zinchenko was in the losing camp: “Of course everyone is disappointed with the result, but not with the game. We did well against the reigning European champions.”
“If we make the analysis, we will be able to take a lot of positive things with us for what is to come. We have a great team and a bright future.”
National coach Serhij Rebrov left the penalty phase and praised the crowd for their support of the Ukrainian team and also the Italian players who applauded the Ukrainian national anthem. “It’s all very emotional.”
The Italians also forgot the penalty phase in the reactions afterwards: “Ukraine made it difficult for us,” said coach Spalletti. “We played a good match, in the first half hour we had enough chances to have already played the match.3
“But because we didn’t score, the match became dirtier and more physical. Ukraine brought more physical players on the pitch. In the end it wasn’t football anymore, but the most important thing happened.”
Goalkeeper Donnarumma was of course also happy: “We are where we deserve to be despite all the obstacles. Thanks to the new coach and the new staff, we are back. We are going to the European Championship to win.”
Spalletti took over from Roberto Mancini in August, with 3 wins, 2 draws and 1 defeat.
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