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Italy’s Euro 2024 title defence ends after Switzerland game loss

BERLIN, Germany –

In the end, 10 months weren’t enough for Italy coach Luciano Spalletti to have the Azzurri playing like his title-winning Napoli club.

Or even like any of the title-winning Italy teams of old. The honors feature four World Cups, two European Championships.

Italy’s European title defence limped to an end on Saturday in a 2-0 loss to Switzerland in the round of 16.

“The responsibility is mine,” Spalletti said, accepting blame for yet another failure by the proud soccer-mad nation to live up to its reputation.

Saturday’s last 16 exit was less of a fight from Italy and more a whimper that recast its 2021 Euro title win as somewhat of an anomaly.

That triumph came sandwiched between two failed attempts to qualify for the World Cup — for the 2018 edition after losing to Sweden in the playoffs, and four years later with a shock defeat to North Macedonia at the same stage.

The team earned redemption at Wembley three years ago, in the pandemic-delayed Euro 2020, and many Italians were hoping for a repeat in Germany.

But those hopes were dashed in the same stadium where Italy defeated France on penalties to lift the World Cup in 2006. It was Switzerland’s first win over Italy for 31 years, and the first game in seven at Berlin’s Olympiastadion that Italy failed to score.

“It’s on my head in terms of what’s happened, but this is part of a process and I have to say this. Because otherwise it might seem that I’m looking to justify things in a certain way,” Spalletti said. “But all of the other coaches had 20 matches in charge before they took charge. Some coaches had 30 games.

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“I only had 10 and we already were under fire. You have to win (…) and it’s only right that we have to win. But I probably need to get to know my team a bit better to be able to set things up better.”

Spalletti was the coach who masterminded Napoli’s spectacular Serie A title run last year. That was Napoli’s first league championship in three decades — since the glory days of Diego Maradona — and the southern team won in thrilling style.

He left Napoli at the end of the campaign, saying he needed a break, but was appointed Italy coach last August after Roberto Mancini suddenly resigned.

Spalletti appeared to have brought that Napoli sparkle back to the national team as a newfound attacking flair helped Italy to turn around its qualifying campaign and finish second in its group.

But there was little sign at all of that at the tournament in Germany.

Italy conceded the fastest goal in the tournament’s history in its opening 2-1 victory over Albania, was thoroughly outclassed in a 1-0 loss to Spain, and needed a last-ditch equaliser from Mattia Zaccagni to snatch a 1-1 draw against Croatia and advance to the knockout stages.

“Having tried out a number of things over the course of this experience, I do come away with the notion that I have to change things, I’m convinced that I have to change things now,” Spalletti said. “It’s not a scandalous result as now you’re trying to depict it to be.

“And when I’m told that we produced a scandalous performance against Croatia … no, no, I’ll say no. Today, we were under par, against Spain we were under par, but not against Croatia. We made it through a tough group. Deservedly so.”

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Matar reported from Munich.

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