Italy is a nation known for its keen passion for football. It’s the country’s most popular sport, and both girls and boys are often devoted followers of the Italian league. Whilst le azzurre have struggled since the turn of the century, all signs show that times are changing. Their second place finish in the recent Cyprus Cup, and impressive results in the World Cup qualifiers, have shown that this team are not to be underestimated, and could compete for the world title.
Founded in 1968, the team would first reach success in a non-official tournament known as the Coppa Europa per Nazioni, placing first after beating Denmark 3-1 in the final. This success would carry on in the next two years, with the team reaching the finals of the unofficial Women’s World Cup in 1970, and the semi-finals the year after. A few more successes followed in non-official tournaments, until finally the first official tournament would take place, the UEFA European Championships in 1984.
Italy impressed in these early European Championships, reaching the top four in the first four competitions (1984, 1987, 1989, 1991), leading up to the advent of the first official Women’s World Cup in 1991. Their first appearance ended at the Quarter-Finals, after a tough loss to Norway 3-2 in extra time.
Whilst Italy would have more success in the European Champions, they would struggle in the World Cup, only qualifying once more until this summer’s tournament, a disappointing group stage exit in the USA in 1999. The 2019 World Cup will be their first in 20 years, and considering a poor set of tournament results in the European Championships since the turn of the millennium, le azzurre will be looking to turn things around and show that they are a force to be reckoned with.
Italy have had strong form leading up to this year’s World Cup, losing only 3 games since the start of 2018 (one of which was on penalties). They have reached the finals of both the 2018 and 2019 Cyprus Cup, losing the first 2-0 to Spain and the second on penalties to North Korea. With only one loss in the qualifiers leading up to this tournament, le azzurre have had a strong 18 months so far, and that will only help their confidence.
In this time period the team has scored 33 goals over 13 games, conceded 13 and managed five clean sheets. Furthermore they have failed to score in only one match, the final against Spain last year. These stats show that the team is clinical in front of goal, and their hunger to win will help them push through the group stages in this tournament as well.
Their Group Stage
Australia (6) – 9th June – Italy’s first game is also their hardest. Australia (or the Matildas) are currently ranked 6th in the FIFA World Rankings, and have won three OFC cups and one AFC cup, as well as reaching the finals of the 2018 AFC Cup last year. The team is strong, experienced, and the majority of players are playing in one of the strongest leagues in the world, the NWSL. The team has reached the Quarter-Finals in the last three World Cups, which shows that they will be a tough opponent.
Brazil (10) – 18th June – Italy’s last game will also be an incredibly tough opponent, the ever mighty Brazil. 10th in the FIFA World Rankings, they have won the majority of the Copa América Feminina tournaments, as well as being the second place team in the 2007 World Cup. However, Brazil’s recent form has been poor, losing their last seven games against opponents like England, France, the United States and Japan. The last time they failed to progress from the group stages was back in 1995, so Italy will have to impress if they are to qualify for the knockout stages.
Jamaica (53) – 14th June – This World Cup is Jamaica’s first, and they will be looking to impress a country not currently gripped by Women’s Football. A 3rd place finish in the 2018 CONCACAF Women’s Championship shows that the team is not to be underestimated, however this should be a game in which Italy can triumph.
Barbara Bonansea – Italy’s star midfielder, Bonansea is one of the driving forces behind Italy’s successful qualification to the World Cup. The Juventus star is creative, quick and is known to score sublime strikes from outside the box. Definitely a player to keep an eye on.
Sara Gama – Gama is Italy’s veteran defender, and has played for clubs like PSG, Brescia and currently Juventus. With over 90 caps for the national side, Gama is a rock in defence and one of Italy’s strongest stars.
Cristiana Girelli – Girelli is a clinical striker for Italy, scoring 24 goals in 50 appearances for le azzurre. Also at Juventus, Girelli is expected to help Italy in their attempt to qualify for the knockout stages, and scored five goals in Italy’s road to France 2019.
Italy have a tough group. Although the team has been steadily improving, they are still facing two opponents that are regulars in the knockout stages, and a victory against either of those is imperative if they are to reach the knockout stages for the first time since 1991.
A victory against Brazil or Australia and they could reach the knockout stages, otherwise it will be a group stage exit for le azzurre.