Two summers ago, Italy’s women’s national team competed in a major tournament. The Azzurre’s showing at Euro 2017 wasn’t great, wasn’t all that successful and wasn’t one that went beyond the group stage. Italy won one of its three group stage games, only beating Sweden on the final day of the group stage that didn’t really do much to improve on a last-place finish in Group B.
Two years later, Italy’s fortunes at a major tournament have been much, much better.
Instead of looking up at everybody like at Euro 2017, Italy was the one, with a little help from goal differential, looking down at everybody in Group C at the Women’s World Cup.
Yes, Italy won the group.
That’s a group that consisted of Brazil. That’s a group that consisted of Australia. Those are two of the top 10-ranked teams in the world entering the tournament, according to FIFA rankings. Those are teams that, regardless of flaws that have been revealed during the group stage, that people were tipping to make deep runs at the Women’s World Cup.
Who wasn’t tipped to go deep into the tournament? Italy.
Who is in position to make it to the quarterfinals if they continue to play the way they have been so far this tournament? You guess it — it’s Italy.
Italy most definitely has the feel-good vibes around the team right now, with a first-place in Group C obviously surpassing every expectation that outside observers had about the squad entering the Women’s World Cup. Even with a good number of bend-but-don’t-break moments, they’ve proven to be a very Italian team at the back after not allowing a goal in open play in the group stage. They’ve proven they can be dangerous in attack, with Juventus Women players scoring all seven of the team’s goals in the group stage.
And that is what makes this Italy squad not your average Italian team. They’re not the basic walking representation of old school clichés about Italians knowing how to defend. Don’t get me wrong, though, Italy’s defense has been solid for the most part — goalkeeper Laura Giuliani has been one of the squads best players this tournament; Sara Gama has been a rock at the back ever since the PK against Sam Kerr in the opener vs. Australia. (Just to name a few who also so happen to play for Juventus Women.)
But what has been the biggest non-Italian stereotype about this team has been just how dangerous they are in attack. The front line, of course, is led by a pair of Juventus Women players in Barbara Bonansea and Cristiana Girelli — who scored the first five of Italy’s goals in the group stage — and they’ve shown to be a constant threat that has added this element to the team that makes them so much more well-rounded than previous Italy squads that had to beat teams by playing picture-perfect games on defense.
Basically, Italy aren’t strictly defensive or solely reliant on their backline or anything close to it — and that’s the development that this team has made since the last time they played in a major international tournament.
Above all else, though, the Azzurre have proven that they can hang and deserve their spot in the round of 16.
And with a favorable matchup against China on Tuesday evening, a spot in the quarterfinals is most definitely something that is obtainable.
Italy. Women’s World Cup quarterfinals. Collision course.
That’s not exactly something I envisioned entering the tournament.
Yet, here we are. As some of the other tournament heavyweights try and simply survive the chaos — seriously, that game between Australia and Norway was BONKERS — Italy has gotten about as favorable of a draw as it could have thanks to finishing atop of Group C. They will be facing a China team that scored all of one game in the group stage, going 1-1-1 in the process (losing vs. Germany, drawing vs. Spain, winning vs. South Africa).
Italy will be the favorite in Tuesday’s game, just as they were when they faced Jamaica. The expectation will be just as it was in the group stage — to win.
Based on how they’ve played in their first three games of the Women’s World Cup, they’re not only showing they’re better than anticipated, but also that they deserve to be held in that kind of regard. They’ve shown that Italy’s women’s national team is on the uptick — and that’s certainly a good thing for all parties involved.