In the months following the Italian men’s national team’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Italy’s women helped redeemed the country by winning seven straight matches in their qualification run to the women’s version of the tournament. That blistering streak of form was enough for Le Azzurre to win their qualification group outright with a game to spare, which also brought an end to Italy’s 20-year Women’s World Cup drought.
Sharing space in Group C with Australia, Brazil and Jamaica, Italy project to be the third-best team of the foursome. As such, since most of the third-placed teams qualify for the knockout rounds, they have a great shot at advancing. With Italy’s seemingly unbreakable backline (they only gave up four goals in the eight World Cup qualifying matches, two of which came when Italy had already qualified) and some gifted attackers up front, it will be a disappointment if they don’t.
Which isn’t to say that any of this will be easy. Nothing is guaranteed in soccer, and though the Italians are strong, they’ve only faced one squad ranked in the top 15 of FIFA’s rankings in 2019. In that game, North Korea beat Italy in penalties in the Cyprus Cup Final back in March.
But even if Italy fall in the group stage, returning to the World Cup after a two decade absence is enough to count the whole experience as a success on its own. It will also serve as an example to the world of the value of legitimate investment in women’s soccer. Though an even stronger example of how much Italy’s recent investment in women’s soccer has done to grow the game came in March, when the Juventus women’s team, in just its second year of existence, played its first ever game inside the men’s team’s arena in front of a crowd of over 39,000.
Goalkeepers: Laura Giuliani (Juventus), Chiara Marchitelli (C.F. Florentia), Rosalia Pipitone (AS Roma)
Defenders: Sara Gama (Juventus), Elena Linari (Atlético Madrid), Alia Guagni (Fiorentina), Elisa Bartoli (AS Roma), Laura Fuseti (A.C. Milan), Lisa Boattin (Juventus), Linda Tucceri (A.C. Milan)
Midfielders: Valentina Bergamschi (A.C. Milan), Aurora Galli (Juventus), Martina Rosucci (Juventus), Alice Parisi (Fiorentina), Barbara Bonansea (Juventus), Annamaria Serturini (AS Roma), Valentina Cernoia (Juventus), Manuela Giugliano (A.C. Milan)
Forwards: Daniela Sabatino (A.C. Milan), Cristiana Girelli (Juventus), Stefania Tarenzi (Fimauto Valpolicella), Ilaria Mauro (Fiorentina), Valentina Giacinti (A.C. Milan)
Le Azzurre (The Blues)
It’s no surprise that the players who have fueled Italy’s successful run are the same ones that helped Juventus Women become league champions for the second time in a row. One such player is team captain Sara Gama, who has 95 national team caps and is the proverbial backbone of this team’s stonewall defense. There’s also Barbara Bonansea, the extraordinary midfielder who led the club to a domestic double in 2019 while studying economics at the University of Turin. The do-it-all midfielder has an other-worldly touch, jaw-dropping agility, the ability to score and create—a combo of skills tailor made for highlight reels:
Manager Milena Bertolini has implemented a free-flowing style that allows the squad to adopt different strategies based on opponent. Most of the time, Italy alternate between a 4-3-3 and a 4-4-2. This kind of formation swapping is possible because of the team’s versatility all over the park.
Italy’s stacked front line of attackers is a good example of this. Cristiana Girelli, Valentina Giacinti, Ilaria Mauro, and Daniela Sabatino are all capable No. 10's who can also shift to other positions comfortably. Girelli is usually the starting striker, but Giacinti, the Italian league’s most prolific scorer over the past two seasons, is a great option to off the bench should Italy find themselves chasing goals.
While the attacking depth is a big reason why Italy are able to pull off their high-pressure style, it also helps that the potential dangers of sending all those attacking players forward are offset thanks to a powerful backline that can switch to a more defensive three-at-the-back formation when necessary. Again, for Italy, versatility is the name of the game.
June 9, 7:00 a.m.: Australia vs. Italy at Stade du Hainaut
June 14, 12 p.m.: Jamaica vs. Italy at Stade Auguste-Delaune
June 18, 3 p.m.: Italy vs. Brazil at Stade du Hainaut
All times Eastern