Based on how the 2019 Women’s World Cup went for Italy, the Azzurre entered the Euros three years later with something a little different surrounding the squad: expectations. That was thanks to what they did in France, surpassing even the loftiest and maybe extreme predictions of what they could do on the world stage.
Those Euros, one where Italy was in the same group as perennial powerhouse France, did not meet those sudden expectations thrust upon them. After the success at the last major tournament, the three-and-out performance at the Euros was very much the crash back down to the ground level after riding high at the World Cup.
Twelve months later, the Azzurre are back with some of their biggest names that were part of the squad that failed to win a game at the Euros and finished at the bottom of their group back in the fold. Much of the spine from the last World Cup is still very much around, too. But, at the same time, this is an Italy roster that is in transition, welcoming in a new wave of talent that has benefited mightily from the improved product on the domestic front in Serie A Femminile.
We got a sign of this in-transition feeling just days before the final roster was set to release when news broke that long-time captain and one of Italy’s most-capped players, 34-year-old center back Sara Gama — who is coming off a less-than-stellar showing at last summer’s Euros and a second straight injury-filled season at Juventus — was not going to be called up by manager Milena Bertolini. Gama’s leadership was undeniable during her run as captain over the past decade and it still remains to be seen who will be named captain for the tournament (and likely into the future in her absence).
It creates quite the situation for Bertolini, who herself could very well be coaching her last major tournament with Italy this summer:
- Does she continue to really rely on the old guard that helped this team be a major surprise four years ago in their first Women’s World Cup appearance in two decades?
- Or will Bertolini roll with some of the incredibly talented young players from the new generation that have only continued to get better since the disappointing showing at the Euros?
Italy’s starting lineup is likely to feature a heavy dose from both Juventus Women and Roma, the clear-cut top dogs in Serie A Femminile the past couple of years. So much of Roma’s title-winning season this year — one that snapped Juve’s streak of five straight Scudetti in the process — was possible because of the young talent they had up and down the roster, with the likes of Giada Greggi and Benedetta Glionna complimenting Valentina Giacinti so well.
And while it’s almost certainly going to be veterans leading the way in defense (even without Gama around) and up front with Giacinti, and Juve stars Cristiana Girelli and Barbara Bonansea, it’s likely in the midfield where those who are in their early- or mid-20s will be looked upon the most. That could very well be somebody like Arianna Caruso, the 23-year-old Juve midfielder who has been one of the best in the league for the past couple of seasons. Combine Caruso, a player who loves to get forward so much you might mistake her for a No. 10 at times, with Italy’s breakout player from the 2019 World Cup, 25-year-old Manuela Giugliano of Roma, and there’s the making of both creativity and goal-scoring ability no matter of Bertolini goes with a 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 like she bounced back and forth with four years ago.
No matter how many young players Bertolini chooses to bet on this summer, there’s the elephant in the room: Will this team be like the one that surprised everybody in making it out of the group stage and into the final eight four years ago or the one that struggled to truly get going at the Euros last year?
Bertolini will still likely lean on the likes of Girelli and Bonansea and others from 2019 to lead this team in the present, but the next generation of Italian talent is on the way. How Bertolini chooses to mix it into a group of veterans that still has something left in the tank will be arguably the biggest determining factor in if the Azzurre can make the summer of 2023 look like things were four years ago.
Getting to the knockout rounds just like four years ago seems like a distinct possibility even with Sweden being the clear-cut favorite to finish atop the group.