The secrets to Italy’s journey to the last eight

www.fifa.com
www.fifa.com|27-Jun-2019 11:50

By Sonja Nikcevic with Italy

Italy's dream run at the FIFA Women's World Cup France 2019™ shows no sign of stopping. The Azzurre’s 2-0 win over China PR saw them equal the nation’s best ever record at a Women’s World Cup: a place in the quarter-finals. As they now look to take that one step further and make history, we look at the factors that make the Italian team click and that have made them the surprise story so far at France 2019.

Confidence from the bench
Coach Milena Bertolini took over at the Azzurre bench at the start of qualification process for France 2019 and led the team to a run of seven straight victories and their first qualification in 20 years. What was it that made the difference? Vice-captain Alia Guagni believes that with the change of coaching staff came a shift in confidence.

“[They] helped us grow, more than anything else in self-confidence. Two years ago we didn’t believe in ourselves, but the coach made us understand that we really have the potential to do something great, and that we had to find a way to demonstrate everything that was inside of us."

Tactics
The confidence Bertolini has managed to instil in her players can be compared to the confidence she has in making tactical switches mid-game here in France, when she sees that things aren’t working. After being overrun by a physical Australia side, Bertolini changed direction at the start of the second half, switched the sides of her full-backs and pushed Valentina Bergamaschi up to midfield to have more pace on the wings. That ultimately led to a much stronger second half display and a shock victory for the Azzurre.

Bertolini was just as quick to backtrack in the round of 16 match against China, where a mix of the Montpellier heat and China’s organised defence left hat-trick heroine Cristiana Girelli ineffective up front. Taking her off for Aurora Galli and switching from a 4-3-3 to a 4-1-4-1 before half-time, led to more space in midfield to stop China’s advances, with Galli eventually scoring a goal from range that sealed victory and a quarter-final spot for the Azzurre. "The coach called me up, and said that something wasn’t working and that we were going to make a tactical change, switching from three in midfield, and it worked,” Galli said after the match.

Joy
Along with a strong tactical display, Italy have won over fans with their attacking style of play, and a joie de vivre on and off the pitch. "The most important thing is that you can see how much we want to be here and how seriously we are taking every match, but we are still enjoying ourselves at the same time, enjoying being here together at the first World Cup for all of us, and that’s what’s making the difference,” Galli said.

After that all-important victory over China, the team burst into an impromptu rendition of the Macarena that has since become their signature celebration after every match – and the song played in the dressing room ahead of training. “Don’t ask me why we started dancing the Macarena,” goalkeeper Laura Giuliani said. “It was completely out of the blue – just something that we all knew, Since then it’s become our thing, and let’s hope there’ll be more to come."