⚽ Italy – Key Euros Stats ⚽

Euro appearances: 10
Euro Titles: 2
Best finish: Winners (1968, 2020)
Euros Record: W21 D18 L6
Goals scored: 52
Biggest win: 3-0 (vs Turkey and vs Switzerland in Euro 2020)
Player to watch: Federico Dimarco
World ranking: 9th
Group Fixtures:

15 June: Italy vs Albania (BVB Stadion, Dortmund, 9pm local/19:00 GMT)
20 June: Spain vs Italy (Arena AufSchalke, Gelsenkirchen, 9pm local/19:00 GMT)
24 June: Croatia vs Italy (Leipzig Stadium, Leipzig, 9pm local/19:00 GMT)

How to follow our Euro 2024 coverage: UEFA Euro 2024 on Al Jazeera

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Italy arrives at the Euros as defending champions, but the title comes without the aura; it has been gradually eroding since that incredible summer night at Wembley, London, in 2021.

Less than a year after their crowning glory at the Euros, the Azzurri encountered the ignominy of missing out on the 2022 Qatar World Cup after a stunning stoppage time goal saw them lose their playoff semifinal to football minnows North Macedonia.

Their qualification campaign for Euro 2024 was similarly fraught.

After their first two qualifiers – a loss to England and a win over Malta – Italy were rocked by the resignation of manager Roberto Mancini after more than five years in the job.

He was replaced by Luciano Spalletti, whose first game in charge was a 1-1 draw, which also happened to be against their 2022 nemesis, North Macedonia. With only one victory in their first three games, Euro 2024 qualification suddenly looked precarious.

A run of three wins in four matches saw Italy go into the final group game against Ukraine, knowing a loss would see them enter the playoffs. A tense goalless draw secured direct passage to the Euros owing to their superior head-to-head record.

Bet gone wrong

To go along with their qualification woes, the Italian side’s preparations were rocked by a betting scandal that saw the police visit the national team’s Coverciano training centre ahead of their qualifiers in October to question Sandro Tonali and Nicolo Zaniolo. The duo subsequently left the camp and Tonali was later handed a 10-month ban by the Italian Football Federation.

Juventus midfielder Nicolo Fagioli was also handed a seven-month ban after being found guilty in the investigation, but he was named in Italy’s final 26-man squad for Euro 2024.

His inclusion is indicative of the dearth of attacking options in front of Spalletti.

Zaniolo and forward Domenico Berardi were ruled out of the tournament through injury, while Marco Verratti and Lorenzo Insigne no longer play their club football in Europe and have faded from national favour.

Injuries have hindered Federico Chiesa’s progress, with the 26-year-old Juventus forward yet to recapture the form that saw him light up Euro 2020.

Gianluca Scamacca, who scored 19 goals for Europa League winners Atalanta this season, is expected to lead the front line but he has scored just once for Italy in his 15 appearances.

Giacomo Raspadori is the other striking option at Spalletti’s disposal, but he has managed only 12 goals across the last two seasons.

Sandro Tonali’s 10-month ban for his part in a betting scandal added to Italy’s Euro 2024 qualification woes [Lee Smith/Reuters]

Defence is the best form of attack

All this points to a side that will be built around its defence. Unsurprisingly, Azzurri are not lacking for talent in this department – their 30-man preliminary squad features 11 eleven defenders.

Of these 11, four were from Inter Milan – prior to Francesco Acerbi’s late injury withdrawal – and given the Nerazzurri’s parsimonious defence this year, the remaining three Inter defenders are all likely to start in Germany.

The 22 goals Inter conceded in the Serie A this season are the lowest among all clubs in Europe’s top five leagues. The feat was achieved playing a back-three. So, replicating a system with a group of defenders already comfortable playing in it feels an almost no-brainer for Spalletti’s national team at Euro 2024.

The manager fielded a three-man defence for the first time in his tenure in the March 2024 friendlies against Venezuela and Ecuador, with Italy going on to win both. The sample size is small but the ceiling could be high.

A backline comprising of Alessandro Bastoni and Alessandro Boungiorni – the likely Acerbi replacement – with Federico Dimarco and Matteo Darmian at wing-back is, on paper, one of the best defences at Euro 2024.

But will that be enough to take them deep in the tournament?

Spalletti admitted in an interview with Sky Italia that there are other countries that are at a higher level than Italy but backed his team to compete with them.

“Our target is to return from Germany and hear Italians say, ‘We are proud of you,’” he said.

Italy’s Matteo Darmian (L) and Federico Dimarco will need to fortify the Italian defence if the reigning champs are to hold on to their title at Euro 2024 [Jennifer Lorenzini/Reuters]

Drawn in a difficult group that includes Spain, Croatia and Albania, even a quarterfinal finish would go a long way towards helping Spalletti meet this objective.

If the Italians can pull off an unlikely tournament coup, they will join Germany and Spain as the record three-time European champions.

⚽ Italy’s final squad for Euro 2024 ⚽

Captain: Gianluigi Donnarumma

Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Donnarumma (Paris St Germain), Alex Meret (Napoli), Guglielmo Vicario (Tottenham Hotspur)

Defenders: Alessandro Bastoni (Inter Milan), Raoul Bellanova (Torino), Alessandro Buongiorno (Torino), Riccardo Calafiori (Bologna), Andrea Cambiaso (Juventus), Matteo Darmian (Inter), Giovanni Di Lorenzo (Napoli), Federico Dimarco (Inter Milan), Federico Gatti (Juventus), Gianluca Mancini (Roma)

Midfielders: Nicolo Barella (Inter Milan), Bryan Cristante (Roma), Nicolo Fagioli (Juventus), Michael Folorunsho (Hellas Verona), Davide Frattesi (Inter Milan), Jorginho (Arsenal), Lorenzo Pellegrini (Roma)

Forwards: Federico Chiesa (Juventus), Stephan El Shaarawy (Roma), Giacomo Raspadori (Napoli), Mateo Retegui (Genoa), Gianluca Scamacca (Atalanta), Mattia Zaccagni (Lazio)

You can follow the action on Al Jazeera’s dedicated Euro 2024 tournament page with all the match buildup and live text commentary, and keep up to date with group standings and real-time match results & schedules.