Sunday night in Kiev and the Euro 2012 final, it proved to be a game too far for the Azzurri. Optimism had grown in line with confidence inside the Italy camp. Having comprehensively defeated the Germans in the semi-final, it was a reunion with an old Group C foe. The tournament began with a draw against Vincente Del Bosque’s Spain, and it was to draw to a close against them too. Despite the harsh score-line, and while you must hold your hands up to superior opponents, it has been a wonderful journey for Cesare Prandelli and his men.
From the group stages to the final, the restoration of pride in the national side has progressively been achieved. Prandelli revealed in his pre-match press conference that “the objective was to make people fall in love with the Azzurri again. I think we achieved that and I’m very happy about it”.
The build-up to the tournament was far from ideal. Allegations of match-fixing and recent results conspired to have many believing this would be a transitional Italy looking to make it out of the group. Further, there were lingering doubts over which tactical formation was most effective, with Italy switching from a 3-5-2 to a 4-3-1-2 mid-tournament. Yet for all the criticism and questions asked of them, Prandelli’s side answered them in stylish fashion and by overcoming their struggles. While the results have been impressive, it was the manner in which they were obtained that changed the identity of the Azzurri in the eyes of many, and had Italians believing again.
Spain continue to prove they are indeed the best international side in the world at this moment in time. Under fire for a change in mentality that some regarded 'boring', they delivered when it mattered and showed the real Spain. Italy ended the tournament as the only team to register a goal against them, but with the final proving too difficult an obstacle. Several players admitted to being tired ahead of the game, while injuries sustained by Giorgio Chiellini and Thiago Motta attested to that.
Perhaps fate conspired against Italy too, reduced to ten-men for the last thirty minutes, effectively ending any chance of a comeback. Yet for all the heartache of the final, Euro 2012 should be remembered fondly. It is the tournament that crowned the beginning rather than the end. Dismissing their reputation of ‘catenaccio’ football, Italy have announced their new approach. With Prandelli at the helm, given more time to implement his ideas and bring in new faces, the future is promising. It is particularly assuring that he confirmed he will remain in charge until 2014.
In my first blog post I commented ‘the journey in Poland and Ukraine could either represent real progress under Prandelli, or come too soon in the cycle of change’. The former Fiorentina coach has implemented his philosophy successfully, and laid down the foundations for the upcoming World Cup qualification campaign. Gone are the stereotypical ‘defensive’ views, opinions have been altered but with that now comes a new level of expectancy.
The players and coaching staff deserve a warm welcome on their return home, for they have done their country proud and made Italy a side that should be respected once more. From Toto Di Natale’s goal against Spain, via Andrea Pirlo’s magical displays, through to Mario Balotelli announcing himself in the semi-final. It has been a tournament to remember, grazie Azzurri!
For all the reaction to Italy's Euro 2012 campaign and the latest Serie A news, you can follow me on Twitter @italiafooty .