Well, as I sat here thinking of how to start out this post, one thought just kept popping into my head: At least Leonardo Bonucci didn't get shown the yellow that would have meant he's suspended for the Spain showdown.
I think that's my only takeaway from Italy's boring group stage finale against the Republic of Ireland on Wednesday night in Lille. Based on how Italy played as a team, Italy were rightfully on the wrong side of the 1-0 win that saw Ireland move into the Round of 16. The game-winning goal, scored by Robbie Brady in the 85th minute, not only ended Italy's perfect defensive record at the tournament, but also handed Antonio Conte his first competitive loss as Italy manager.
And yet, with how crappy Italy played, I can't get this 13-second clip of audio out of my mind.
If only there was something like that going on during the Italy-Ireland game like there was happening behind Frank Drebin in the Naked Gun...
Conte did exactly as he said at his pre-match press conference and made wholesale changes to a team that had already wrapped up the top spot in the group with a game to spare. There was no Gigi Buffon. There was no Giorgio Chiellini. No Daniele De Rossi, no Emanuele Giaccherini, no Antonio Candreva. When you point out that a squad is being rotated and it's truly a second-choice starting lineup, this one would have been the prime example of it.
And, for the most part, they played like a second-choice lineup.
There was no flow, no real threat to do much of anything up front, no source of creativity until the nearly-forgotten Lorenzo Insigne was subbed on for the final 20 minutes or so. The only real constant, how Italy was able to defend and absorb pressure at the back, wasn't much of a surprise either because Conte chose to keep Bonucci — on a yellow and risking suspension for the Spain game, no less — and Andrea Barzagli as two of the three in the 3-5-2.
It was just...meh.
This was not a vintage Italian performance by any means. They were stuck on two total shots for what seemed like the entire second half until Insigne came on. The players that came on for the regular starters' lack of a lasting impression far outweighed the actual positive impact they made on the game.
Stefano Sturaro? Meh.
Italy's No. 10, Thiago Motta? Meh.
Noted hot head Simone Zaza? Meh.
Ciro Immobile? Meh.
Pretty much every Italian player who made their first start of the tournament against Ireland? Meh.
Ireland got the win that they deserved. (Nice piece of goalkeeping from Salvatore Sirigu on the game-winning goal, by the way. Except not really.) Italy didn't need any kind of result, and maybe that's the best thing outside of Bonucci not getting another yellow card to come out of Wednesday's group stage finale. What would the reaction be like if Italy threw out this kind of performance — starters or reserves playing, regardless — if the top spot in the group still at stake?
If Italy beat Spain, then all of this will be a moot point and the rather stale performances against Sweden and Ireland won't even matter anymore because Italy will be into the quarterfinals. If they lose — or even worse, get thumped — against Spain, then get ready for the internet to explode. (Maybe, maybe not.)
I'll just keep telling myself the next couple of sentences over and over again: Italy won the group. Wednesday's loss doesn't really impact them all that much. Bonucci didn't get suspended. I ain't even mad.