Italy made it. The Azzurri will defend their European title next year in Germany as a goalless stalemate against Ukraine in Leverkusen was enough for them to make it to Euro 2024. They ended second in Group C, six points adrift of England.
Luciano Spalletti and his boys needed at least one point to avoid going through the playoff ordeal. They did not get the win tonight but not for lack of trying. The match with Serhiy Rebrov’s team was a tense battle, which saw the Azzurri be on the attacking end for most of the night. The Ukrainian fort did not collapse, though.
Actually, Italy were saved by grace during stoppage time as a Bryan Cristante tackle on Mikhailo Mudryk in the box was overlooked by the referee and the VAR was not called to review. It could have been a penalty.
Spalletti made four changes versus his recent winning outing against North Macedonia. Torino’s Alessandro Buongiorno collected his second cap at center back, alongside Francesco Acerbi, while Giovanni Di Lorenzo recovered his spot at right back after serving a one-match ban.
Davide Frattesi was deployed at midfield instead of Giacomo Bonaventura. Upfront, Spalletti confirmed Federico Chiesa and Giacomo Raspadori, while Nicoló Zaniolo was the right wing in Domenico Berardi’s place.
The match was played at a crazy pace from the start. Ukraine had no option but win and showed no fear, pushed by no less than 20,000 supporters at the BayArena in Leverkusen. This was supposed to be their “home” game, but the match could not take place in Ukraine for obvious reasons. But the Italian fans gathered in mass too, as it is always the case when the Nazionale plays in Germany.
Overall, Italy had the right approach and attacked more, even though the first save of the night was made by Gianluigi Donnarumma, who had to dive to the right to palm away a Heorhiy Sudakov challenge early on.
But the Ukrainian goalkeeper Anatoliy Trubin was also soon called to action as he defused a Nicoló Barella shot. Trubin had to work much harder in the middle of the first half when he denied Frattesi from the clearest chance for the Azzurri.
The Inter midfielder was picked by Chiesa after a spectacular progression across the pitch, but Trubin blocked his shot with a fantastic leg split save. A few minutes later, Italy had another glorious chance, but this time it was Raspadori to fail to connect with the ball from a Chiesa sharp pass from the left flank.
At half time, Spalletti changed the center forward as he replaced Raspadori with Gianluca Scamacca. However, the Atalanta man was mostly unseen for the remainder of the game as the chances for the Azzurri dwindled.
Ukraine grew by the minute and, when Italy started to run out of breath, they piled up the pressure and gave quite a few scares to Spalletti and his boys. Italy were facing their second Qualifiers game in four days while the Ukrainians had not played in the last weekend. They had much more fuel in the tank as the game approached its final stages.
On 65 minutes, Donnarumma risked a lot as he failed to block what looked like an easy cross after a misunderstanding with Di Lorenzo. However, he promptly redeemed himself with a providential block from Mudryk’s subsequent shot.
Spalletti made more changes as he sent in Matteo Politano and Cristante for Zaniolo and Jorginho, then also added Moise Kean – who took the place of an exhausted Chiesa. But his last substitution was the most emblematic one as he pulled out poor winger Politano after only a few minutes to add another defensive player in Matteo Darmian.
It was a sign that Spalletti had understood it was time to settle for a nil-nil tie. And he was right, because just a few minutes later the Azzurri risked wasting it all. Cristante’s tackle in the box seemed to have hit Mudryk’s on his leg, but referee Jesus Gil Manzano somehow let it go.
Italy could breathe a sigh of relief. Qualification is achieved. There will be no playoffs this time. And considering their recent history, this is just a great piece of news.
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