Italia campioni d’Europa – “Italy, champions of Europe” – read the triumphant headline of the Corriere della Sera, Italy’s most-read newspaper, the day after the Azzurri defeated England to win the postponed Euro 2020 football tournament last summer.
Fast forward less than a year and the atmosphere couldn’t be any more different.
“Behold the defeat of Italy,” the same newspaper lamented following Italy’s second consecutive failure to reach a World Cup.
On Thursday evening, North Macedonia defeated Roberto Mancini’s men 1-0, with a 92nd-minute goal from forward Aleksandar Trajovski.
It ended Italy’s chances of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and comes after they failed to qualify for the 2018 tournament, too.
Over at Azzurri HQ, the atmosphere is decidedly morose. Roberto Mancini, the team’s manager, stated that the “disappointment is too great”, as Italian media outlets speculate whether he may be on the way out.
“Addio, Mancini?” (Farewell, Mancini?) has been the title question of certain media outlets. Fabio Cannavaro and Claudio Ranieri have been touted as possible successors.
“We are destroyed and crushed,“ said team captain and defender Giorgio Chiellini, a stark contrast from him holding the Euro 2020 trophy aloft last summer.
For a country where football is often described as something akin to a national religion, the widespread disappointment is palpable. Last July, Rome’s Piazza del Popolo — where the UEFA 2020 final was broadcast — was brimming with late-night revelry as Italians celebrated with banners and chants mocking the English: “Coming home? It’s coming Rome!”. Cut to today, and the colossal square lies inconspicuously silent under the sun of a balmy spring day.
Certain Italian football supporters have taken to Twitter to find humour in their loss.
“The English are now throwing memes back at us,” one user stated, sharing a widely-parodied image of Chiellini grabbing English footballer player Bukayo Saka at the UEFA final.
Higher-profile names have also openly voiced their disappointment.
“What sadness,” lamented Rai journalist Andrea Vianello. TV presenter Michele Criscitiello went even further: “Mancini and Gravina must resign before [24h] today. It’s a total failure.”
But football fever hasn’t gripped everyone in the country, as some worry more about the political developments unfolding elsewhere.
“Frankly, I don’t really care about football right now,” Francesco, a builder working near Rome’s Piazza del Popolo, told Euronews. “I’m much more concerned about what is happening in Ukraine right now.”