It may sound weird to play the “What if” game when the final score ends up being 5-1, but as the second half played out between Italy and France Sunday night, I couldn’t help but do it. That’s mostly because of what happened in the minutes following the main event of said game that went on in my head, no matter how much of a wide margin the final score was.
It was Juventus Women on Juventus Women crime, the moment I speak of.
One of Juve’s best attackers, Barbara Bonansea, was clear in on goal, looking to give Italy an early 1-0 lead. The only thing between Bonansea and the Azzurre’s first goal of the Euros was the goalkeeper that she had gone up against so often in training over the past nine or 10 months, Pauline Peyraud-Magnin.
PPM kept Bonansea off the scoresheet with a sweet kick save. Then France absolutely took over.
In the minutes following Bonansea’s shot being saved by her club teammate in the opposing goal, France had built a quick 2-0 lead. That soon became 3-0. Then 4-0. And finally 5-0, as France’s first-half blitz of an absolutely flummoxed Italy produced the best performance in the opening 45 minutes that we have seen at the Women’s European Championship thus far. It was an impressive showing obviously, but it was one that you had to think at least had the chance to play out differently if Bonansea had beaten her club teammate in the France goal and given Italy a 1-0 lead rather than seeing that shot that she’s finished so many times before be saved and then see one of the tournament favorites turn right around and do what they did the rest of the first half.
See, what if.
Or, at the very least, what could have been for a few minutes at minimum.
France were great in the first half, showing the kind of potential that has so many thinking they can win the whole damn thing in such a wide-open field this summer. Their attacking prowess was tantalizing, with the kind of speed and ferocity that few teams in the 16-team field can truly match. And when you combine just how out of sorts Italy’s defense was, with players who are usually so assured at the back playing the complete opposite of that, it was the perfect storm for a team like France to take the lead, build on it and then run away with it.
So who knows if Bonansea’s potential goal that didn’t end up being a goal would have truly slowed that first-half version of France down, but it certainly would have allowed the Azzurre to play a little more of their game rather than chasing a game when they were anything but their usual selves.
Remember, this is an Italy team that has gotten results against some of the other really good teams in this tournament like Spain, Norway and Denmark. But France just caught them at the perfect time — and with it came one hell of a first half.
I believe they call that “a perfect storm.” And because of it, Italy has an uphill battle the rest of the group stage if it wants to make the knockout rounds of Euro 2022.
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
- Who assisted Italy’s on goal? Lisa Boattin, of course.
- Also on the docket in terms of happenings against France: Shaking off a second-half knock to the ankle because the would-be French tackler went studs up.
- Also on the docket in terms of happenings against France: Getting a bloody nose after a tough 50/50 challenge.
- I know this post is pretty much all about Italy, but this was another instance of how good of a keeper Peyraud-Magnin is. The save on Bonansea was the top highlight, but she just commanded her box and was pretty much control of everything. There was nothing she could do on the Italy goal in the second half, and outside of that she played a spotless game.
- There was a point where you were just waiting and waiting for Cristiana Girelli to get a touch in the box so she could put something on frame against PPM. Instead, it never happened. That was one of the biggest things to cost Italy — when they did have scoring chances in the first half, the Azzurre just couldn’t find their top scoring threat.
- This was not a very good day for Sara Gama. Like, not at all.
- The first goal very much falls on Gama’s shoulders, with a failed clearance going right into the path Grace Geyoro, who one-timed it past Laura Giuliani for the first goal of her first-half hat trick.
- Speaking of Giuliani, it was her decision to parry the ball into the middle of the penalty area rather than catch it that led to the second goal. Much like Gama’s mistake, Giuliani’s error allowed Marie-Antoinette Katoto to have about as simple of a finish as you can get for a player at this level. You just can’t do that — especially against a team as good as France.
- Martina Piemonte forever.
- Italy’s midfield was an absolute mess in the first half, but they found some stability after the break thanks to Martina Rosucci coming on. As we know, Rosucci is the kind of player who splits opinions, but it was her balance and overall presence that Italy was lacking in the first half. Maybe, just maybe, that’s a sign that she’s starting the next time Italy takes the field, but at the very least she was a halftime sub that paid off, which is more than you can about some players who were in the starting lineup.
- For this being a 5-1 final score, France only outshot Italy 16-12. So there’s that.
- Agnese Bonfantini did not play in this game. I am sad.
- I was so excited to see Arianna Caruso get her first start at a major tournament and it ended up playing out in this kind of way. Boo. I am sad again.
- I know the second half comes with the caveat of it being started with a 5-0 scoreline and France essentially had already taken off of its foot off the gas, but there were some encouraging signs from Italy over the course of the final 45 minutes. They very much looked more like the team they’re capable of being rather than a complete mess like they were in the first half. Hopefully, that and not the first-half showing is more of the case as the group stage goes.
- With this result, does Thursday’s game against Iceland now become a must-win situation? Seeing as Iceland and Belgium played out a 1-1 draw, Italy can jump up into second place in the group with a win Thursday. That would be a nice development after what we saw take place Sunday night.