Italy and Spalletti embarrassed by the team that will knock England out of Euro 2024

Will Ford
Xhaka Switzerland
Granit Xhaka was excellent for Switzerland in their win over Italy.

England now have Slovakia and Switzerland standing in their way of the Euro 2024 semi-final. Sounds great, but we have very little confidence after the Swiss brushed Italy aside.

The opening 30 seconds of each half summed up the game. Switzerland very nearly put Breel Embolo straight through for a chance on goal when they kicked off, while Italy immediately gave the ball away before Ruben Vargas gave his side a 2-0 lead. Switzerland were excellent but needn’t have been, because Italy were – to use the vernacular of their spiky manager – a load of “w**k”.

Luciano Spalletti took exception in the week to the suggestion by a journalist that the switch to a 3-5-2 formation for the 1-1 draw with Croatia was the result of a “pact” between him and his players, launching into a foul-mouthed response that would lead even the most inattentive of pop psychologists to conclude there were ulterior pressures and concerns behind the outburst. “How old are you? You’re 51, so you’ve got 14 more years of w*****g to go to get to 65, which is my age,” Spalletti said.

He is indeed an experienced manager, with a significant recent feather in his cap having led Napoli to the Scudetto in 2022/23, and there are caveats to this Italy team being so inferior to that which beat England in the Euro 2020 final, not least the drop in quality as a result of the absences of Ciro Immobile, Lorenzo Insigne, Marco Verratti and centre-back giants among men Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini. Only four of the players to have started the triumph over the Three Lions three years ago began the game here against the Swiss. But still, we expected more of Spalletti.

They lack quality up top. Gianluca Scamacca came back in to replace the worst striker of the group stage and had 20 touches in the game; eight of those were in his own half and the only one in the box saw him hit the post from two yards out. That’s now one goal in 20 appearances for his country.

Federico Chiesa was probably the most dangerous of the front three that started the game, but was well short of his Euro 2020 form and Stephan El Shaarawy provided very little in the way of competition making his first appearance since November, having been brought back in from the cold then by Spalletti after a three-year absence from the national team.

Why he started over the man who became a national hero with his last minute goal to beat Croatia last time out only Spalletti will know, and when Mattia Zaccagni did come on he made an impact, doing novel things like running at defenders and putting crosses into the box.

After half an hour Italy had a pass accuracy of 70 per cent. No team in the group stages had a lower score across their three games and the Italian’s themselves averaged 86.6 per cent. It was in that period that it became clear to Switzerland and everyone watching that they were the better football team, a revelation that should be of grave concern for England fans, who have endured a bunch of individuals under Gareth Southgate show a similar lack of cohesion to the Italians who were so easily brushed aside.

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The tactics were pretty simple. Switzerland played out from the back while Granit Xhaka and Remo Freuler controlled the midfield and looked whenever possible for Embolo, who brought Vargas on the left and Dan Ndoye on the right into the game whenever he could, which was essentially whenever he got the ball, such was the lack of pressure on him receiving it.

It was Embolo to Vargas to the on-rushing Freuler for the opener. The Nottingham Forest midfielder took a good, not great, touch on the run in the box before firing his shot inside the near post. Decent football but far too easy against an Italy defence lacking the grit, fight and love of knocking lumps out of opposition players of their predecessors, who will no doubt have been finger pursing in disbelief wherever they are.

Embolo should have scored having been played onside by a laughably wavy defensive line and Fabian Rieder’s brilliant free-kick was saved by Gianluigi Donnarumma, leading sage analyst Danny Murphy to proclaim: “I think he meant that y’know”. Cheers for that, Danny.

A kick up the backside was required at the break by Spalletti, but arses had no recovery time before Nicolo Fagioli ceded possession from kick-off in a manner that would surely have piqued the interest of the authorities were it possible to place bets on such things, before Vargas curled the ball beautifully beyond Donnarumma.

It’s the first Switzerland win over Italy since the 1994 World Cup, when Roy Hodgson masterminded their 1-0 win, and only their second knockout win in 86 years. A wonderful achievement, but the modest celebrations afterwards suggests not only their confidence of victory – entirely reasonable given how truly terrible Italy were – but also that they’re not done yet.

With either England or Slovakia to come next, we don’t blame them. And while us arrogant England fans will look at Slovakia and then Switzerland standing in the way of a semi-final and be hastily looking at flights to Dortmund on July 10, having beaten one underperforming European giant in Italy, Murat Yakin and his side will be very confident of beating another. Because crucially, unlike Italy and England, Switzerland are a balanced football team, know exactly what they’re doing, and do it very well.