Italy are the one of the most successful footballing nations in Europe but not many people are tipping them do well in France this year. The Azzurri have won four FIFA World Cups, they were champions of the world just ten years ago, but they appear to be unfancied outsiders for the European Championships, but are they capable of pulling off a surprise win?
Antonio Conte has selected what has been described as an underwhelming and ageing squad, with an average age of 28. Recent friendly results have disappointed, they were humiliated 4-1 by Germany in March and were generally unconvincing in narrow victories over Finland and Scotland. Italy had enjoyed a straightforward qualifying campaign that saw them unbeaten and top of a group that included Croatia and Norway. They finished with a record of 7 wins and 3 draws, scoring 16 goals and conceding just 7.
Italy are in one of the tournament's toughest groups, they are drawn in Group E with Belgium, Sweden and the Republic of Ireland. If you follow the latest Fifa rankings, Belgium should top the group as they are ranked as the second best team in the world, Italy should follow them as second in the group as they’re ranked 12th, well ahead of Ireland who are 33rd and Sweden who are 35th.
Belgium V Italy
13 June 21:00 - Parc Olympique Lyonnais, Lyon
Belgium will pose a significant test to Italy in their opening game, a test that I think they will ultimately fail. The Belgians are blessed with attacking talent, they will prove too inventive and unpredictable for even for Italy’s stout defence to contain. Italy to lose the opener, 2-1.
Italy V Sweden
17 June 15:00 - Stadium Municipal, Toulouse
My expectation is for Italy to bounce back with a victory over Sweden in game round 2. I’m predicting the Azzuri will be more energised after their first outing, they will control the game and come out with a win over Zlatan and co. It will be close but Italy will run out 2-1 winners.
Italy V Republic Ireland
22 June 21:00 - Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Villeneuve-d'Ascq
Ireland famously beat Italy in the 1994 Fifa World Cup and on their day this Irish squad are just as capable of springing a surprise but I’m predicting Italy will have just enough firepower to collect all the points from this encounter. They will keep the the Irish attack at bay and win 2-0.
Italy’s legendary Goalkeeper is now 38 years old but he is still considered as one of the very best in his position. The World Cup winner has 157 caps for the Azzuri and he has made the 5th most appearances in Serie A with 589 appearances. Buffon will need to be in his very best form for Italy to progress in this year’s tournament, but history has shown that when he’s called upon, Buffon delivers.
Stephan El Sharrawy
El Shaarawy broke into the limelight when he was just 19 playing for AC Milan in the Champions League and Serie A. He has a playing style reminiscent of a young Cristiano Ronaldo, but injuries have slowed his progress and he has had frustrating loan spells at Monaco and Roma in recent years. If he can rediscover his form, Italy will have a genuine match winner who can inspire them to progress to the latter stages of the competition.