Written By Onyeka Daniel
Italy took a step towards qualifying for the Euro 2024 tournament that will be hosted by Germany in the summer with an emphatic win over North Macedonia at the stadio Olimpico, but it’s far from over as they still need at least one point from their last game. The Nazionale won 5-2, but the match wasn’t without it usual drama for the team.
The main talking point for the game was another missed penalty by Jorginho, who has missed his last four penalties for Italy, including shoot-outs, but Luciano Spalletti ‘already told him that he will take the next spot-kick and he agreed.’ The midfielder failed to convert in the EURO 2020 Final shoot-out against England at Wembley Stadium, then missed in two different 2022 World Cup qualifiers against Switzerland.
If just one of those had gone in, then the Azzurri would have booked their ticket to the tournament in Qatar. When leading 1-0 against North Macedonia, the referee pointed to the spot and Jorginho took the ball, had his traditional, hop, skip and jump run-up only for the weak effort to be easily saved. The Azzurri then took a 3-0 lead with Matteo Darmian’s header and two Federico Chiesa goals.
North Macedonia fought back to make it 3-2, but Giacomo Raspadori and Stephan El Shaarawy secured the result. They eventually won 5-2, but Spalletti is still keeping the faith with the Arsenal veteran. “Jorginho had a great game tonight and a delicate one,” said the coach in a press conference. “I already told him that he will take the next spot-kick and he agreed.”
Not everyone is so generous, because 1982 World Cup winner Beppe Bergomi was speaking as a pundit on Sky Sport Italia with a very different view. “With all due respect, Jorginho has to bow down to the evidence here and admit penalties are no longer for him. That style of taking spot-kicks just does not work anymore and today we got confirmation beyond doubt.
“We can appreciate his character and mental strength in going up there again, but I’d say now enough is enough. He has to go to the coach and say let someone else take the next one.” There were other penalty specialists on the pitch at the time, including Domenico Berardi, who Jorginho did briefly speak to when the spot-kick was awarded.
In his press conference, the manager continued to praise the mental strength of his players when North Macedonia came back from 3-0 down to 3-2. “I expected us to suffer, to clam up and try to hang on. Instead we got back to charging up the pitch, turning moves around and scoring goals. Along with the two that we did score, there were several other big opportunities too.”
Italy now need only a draw against Ukraine in Leverkusen on Monday to book their ticket for EURO 2024, but Spalletti is in no mood to rotate. “We will see how everyone is doing, but it was a good performance and we should work on what we saw tonight. Whoever has the better of the final match will go to the Euros.” He further added.
For the hero of the match, Chiesa insists that the 5-2 win over North Macedonia showed the positives and negatives of the new approach by their manager for Italy. ‘We are more attacking, so take more risks.’ “The important thing is that we won the game,” Chiesa told RAI Sport and Sky Sport Italia. “
Unfortunately, we conceded two goals that overall I don’t think we deserved to let in, but now we will fight it out directly with Ukraine. “It wasn’t a blackout, we are more positive and attacking under this coach, which also means taking a few more risks at the back. However, we showed that we wanted to dominate the match and deserved the victory.”
The Juventus forward had not yet been able to play under Spalletti due to injury, so there were real worries when he went down clutching his knee after a heavy tackle in the opening minute. “I was sad not to be available for the first two sets of games, but I am very glad to be back in the Italy jersey. I felt pain, as I was changing direction and he crashed into me.
“These things happen at international level, the defenders want to make their presence felt.” Chiesa again had words of praise for Spalletti and the approach he is taking compared to predecessor Roberto Mancini. “I do what the coach asks of me and we are all responsible, we must all make the step to reach the Euros.
“I think with this mentality, going to Germany against Ukraine looking not for the draw, but for the victory, that is the mentality of this coach, this team and how we must go forward. “I thank the coach for his words that showed great respect and trust in me. He has proved over the years that he is a great coach and is trying to do the same now with Italy.” He further added.
Napoli star Kvicha Kvaratskhelia admits the toughest opponent he has faced is very close to home, while revealing anecdotes about Lionel Messi and Milan rival Rafael Leao. The Georgia international is currently away playing for his country after scoring two goals against Scotland and preparing to face Spain.
He spoke to local reporters and spilled the beans on some intriguing stories from behind the scenes. “The toughest opponent I’ve ever faced is Giovanni Di Lorenzo on the training ground. I hope I’ll never have to play against him,” said Kvaratskhelia.
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Together they won the first Napoli Scudetto in over 30 years and that allowed the local fans to nickname the forward ‘Kvaradona.’ It proved enough to get him on the Ballon d’Or list of candidates and it was at the ceremony in Paris where he met World Cup winner Messi.
“Messi was sitting to the right of me. During the commercial break, we were warned not to stand up and move around a lot, so I stayed seated. “Suddenly, he got up and came towards me. I didn’t understand what was happening, but he lifted his arm and shook my hand. I appreciate it so much, he is an amazing person.”
Kvaratskhelia also impressed some of his opponents in Serie A and was grateful for a gesture from Milan star Rafael Leao after the Napoli man finally broke his six-month goal drought. “It’s tough to find a man like Leao in football. When I hadn’t scored for a long time and then got a goal, he wrote to congratulate me and wished me all the best. He is a super human being.” He further added.
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