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Who We’ll Be Watching This World Cup: The Italian National Team

Yes. We're still bitter.

Italy Training Session & Press Conference Photo by Mattia Ozbot/Getty Images

It should come as no surprise that a writer for a website that focuses on an Italian football club is a supporter of the Italian National Team every time a major tournament rolls around. In fact, it was watching the Azzurri that first got me into Roma. Flashback to 2006. Songs by The Fray, Gorillaz, and Shakira were tearing up the charts, Tom Cruise had just married Katie Holmes, and I watched the entirety of the World Cup with my dad in the room over our garage. My first encounter with football outside of my years playing soccer in the town league was through a fuzzy Univision channel (we didn’t have cable at the time), and with my dad being a first-generation Italian-American, I naturally supported the Azzurri.

AS Photo Archive Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

I would’ve supported the Azzurri even if they were a terrible squad with no superstar players simply because my dad told me they were our team. Fortunately, the Italians had an ace in the hole to make my automatic support worthwhile: one Francesco Totti. The rest, as they say, is history. Despite being smack dab in the middle of recovering from a fibula fracture and ligament damage, Er Bimbo de Oro soldiered on and put in a Team-of-the-Tournament-level performance. Nine-year-old Jimmy became determined to continue following the exploits of this generational attacking talent, and so I’ve been supporting A.S. Roma ever since.

It’s funny to think about just how long watching football has been a part of life now. When I was in school, I was never a serious soccer player; I focused on sports like swim team and crew before basically making music my varsity sport. Yet through all of that, watching the Azzurri and the Giallorossi has become a tradition for me and, by extension, the rest of my family. My dad even got the family season tickets to the New England Revolution in the late 2000s to try to recreate the magic with an in-person football experience, but the Revs were such a terrible watch at Gillette Stadium that my support of my “local club” never came close to rivaling my love for Roma and the Italians. Following those two squads connects me to my family, to the place where my dad’s side of the family once called home, and to countless people on the internet and in the real world who follow Roma and the Azzurri as well. For that, I’m grateful, despite the ups and downs of following both Roma and Italy.

There certainly have been some ups and downs for the Azzurri since 2006. The high of winning the 2021 Euros was amazing; I was in the middle of a cross-country move during the Final, but fifteen years after the ‘06 World Cup, I still made the time to find a stream to watch that Euro Final while crammed into a U-Haul with my dad. Meanwhile, the ignominy of failing to qualify for the World Cup in 2018 was humbling. Sure, the squad wasn’t as elite as it had been during the 2000s, but this is the Azzurri we’re talking about, a national team that is a giant in the world of football.

Italy - England Photo by Christian Charisius/picture alliance via Getty Images

Thankfully, the Italians look set to undo the damage caused by missing the 2018 World Cup when they travel to Qatar. Roberto Mancini has learned from his mistakes; he’s sent some of his old standbys in the starting eleven out to pasture, letting exciting young players like Nicolò Zaniolo, Lorenzo Pellegrini, Gianluca Scamacca, and Nicolò Barella become the new core of a revitalized Azzurri. They might not go the distance this year and tack on a fifth star to their kits, but there’s hope in the air as this new generation has taken the reins from the underwhelming 2018 squad (looking at you, Ciro Immobile).

What’s that? The Italians didn’t make the World Cup this year? For the second time in two World Cups? Largely because Roberto Mancini stuck with aging players who had no business keeping their starting roles for the Azzurri? And you say they were unlucky, but when you’re bad enough that “unlucky” is enough to keep you out of the World Cup, that doesn’t qualify as a real excuse?

Ah. Well. Guess I’m rooting for the Americans this go-around. Tyler Adams, don’t let me down.