England crawls through the eye of the needle, weak Italy retreats

With a move that betrayed his great class, Jude Bellingham prevented England from being kicked out of the European stage by small-time Slovakia in added time. The team full of expensive stars was long on the brink of the abyss on Sunday evening.

A beautiful overhead kick from Bellingham still put England 1-1 up. The Real Madrid star provoked his own fans in Gelsenkirchen after that goal. Those fans had every reason to cry for more than 90 minutes at England’s poor play. In extra time it was Harry Kane who headed the ball into the Slovak goal: 2-1. The reward is that England can play Switzerland in the quarter-finals next Saturday in Düsseldorf. That country eliminated Italy in the round of 16 on Saturday, eliminating the 2021 European champions from the tournament.

disconcertingly bad

England were the other finalists at the previous European Championships, but it must be very strange for national coach Gareth Southgate’s team to pull off that trick again. The team with stars such as Bellingham, Walker, Foden, Rice, Saka, Stones and Kane has been playing very poorly throughout the tournament. The football against Slovakia was also mysteriously bad on Sunday.

There was hardly any chemistry between the players. They seemed to have no plan, while Slovakia operated as a unit with Feyenoord player David Hancko. The Slovaks deservedly made it 1-0 after a festival of errors in England’s defense. Ivan Schranz already achieved his third of the tournament due to Marc Guéhi’s poor defense. Southgate had put Kobbie Mainoo (19 years old, Manchester United) in the starting lineup in the hope of giving his team more dynamics in midfield. But the first half was once again characterized by stagnant football and mutual misunderstandings. The concert of whistles from the fans themselves in the Schalke stadium during the break was massive.

Things did not improve in the second half. Phil Foden’s 1-1 was ruled out for offside. Kane’s header went wide and Declan Rice hit the post. Arsenal paid roughly as much for Rice last year (€115m) as the entire 26-man Slovakia squad cost. Surprisingly, Southgate started making substitutions very late. Thanks to Kane, England went through the eye of the needle. Peter Pekarik had a good chance to make it 2-2 in extra time.

Well deserved one way ticket to Italy

While England escaped, defending champions Italy got what they deserved on Saturday: a one-way ticket home after a desperate 2-0 defeat to Switzerland. At Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, where Italy won the world title in 2006, Luciano Spalletti’s side were beaten at times by a well-organised Switzerland.

The judgments about Spalletti and the Squadra Azzurri in the Italian media were devastating on Sunday. The quality newspaper the Republic wrote about the national coach: “Carbonara can only be made if you have egg, guanciale and pecorino cheese. If you only have garlic and olive oil, you will have to change the recipe. “He didn’t understand that.” The Corriere dello Sport found the game “embarrassing.”

Despite the fiasco, Spalletti could remain in office, in principle until the 2026 World Cup, the president of the Italian federation, Gabriele Gravina, made it clear on Sunday. The national coach is working on a project and is not going to abandon it after eight months, he stated. Spalletti replaced Roberto Mancini last year. He won the European title with Italy in 2021. He then missed World Cup qualification.

At the European Championships in Germany, Italy were not for a moment the team they were three years ago. Thanks to a late equaliser, Mattia Zaccagni avoided early elimination in the group stage. It turned out to be a stay of execution. Italy were tactically outplayed by Switzerland in Berlin on Saturday. The team of national coach Murat Yakin, who are increasingly emerging as dangerous outsiders at this European Championship, distanced themselves from Italy through Remo Freuler and Ruben Vargas. “We lacked everything, especially courage and quality,” was the harsh conclusion drawn by goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma.

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