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'Worst Italy team in a lifetime' as holders limp out

The defending champions are out of Euro 2024 and to say Italy exited with a whimper would be being kind.

Comfortably beaten 2-0 by Switzerland at Berlin's Olympiastadion, Luciano Spalletti's side failed to even put up the late fight that at least characterised the comeback draw against Croatia in their final group game.

"I don't think I've witnessed, in my lifetime, a worse Italian team than this," said former England striker Gary Lineker on BBC One.

In 2006, Italy won their fourth World Cup at this venue, beating France on penalties.

Three years ago, the Azzurri went to Wembley and crushed English dreams in another shootout to claim a third European Championship title.

There are talented players in this squad but, certainly from the showing against Switzerland, a lack of character - not the craft of Andrea Pirlo, the guile of Marco Materazzi or the grizzly nous of Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini.

Of those who started in the defeat of England in 2021, only goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, defender Giovanni di Lorenzo, midfielder Nicolo Barella and forward Federico Chiesa made Spalletti's starting XI for the limp exit in Berlin.

"From three years ago to this, it's incredible," added ex-England captain Alan Shearer.

"I was really shocked at how bad Italy were. They offered nothing in any position, Switzerland toyed with them.

"They dominated that game and didn't give Italy a chance. Up top they were so weak, they offered nothing in front of goal. There was no threat. They were so poor, particularly in forward positions."

'Italy were shambolic'

Defending champions Italy won one of their four games at Euro 2024

Spalletti worked his magic at Napoli last season to win the club's first Scudetto since the Diego Maradona-inspired triumph of 1990.

He was supposed to be on a sabbatical, spending time on his farm in Tuscany, but cut it short to take the reins of the national team when Roberto Mancini resigned in August last year.

There were Italian fans sporting Maradona jerseys in the stands in Berlin and there was Spalletti on the bench, but there was none of the high-intensity, attacking football that made his Napoli side so enjoyable to watch last season.

"The team were timid in terms of the intensity of the game," he said. "We didn’t do a good job, we weren’t able to maintain a high level of intensity.

"When you are not able to win the ball back, given we don’t possess pace at the back, you have to afford them space."

Spalletti only had 10 games before the tournament to whip a side that failed to qualify for the World Cup in Qatar into shape, only reaching this tournament as runners-up to England in qualifying.

But four games into Euro 2024, and with just a win against Albania and a late draw with Croatia to show for it, Spalletti and Italy's tournament is over.

"They've been shambolic, almost," said BBC pundit Rio Ferdinand. "It's like they've not got one answer or solution for any scenario that's come up in this game today.

"Questions are going to be asked of Spalletti, I'm sure."

And they were. Immediately after the defeat, the 65-year-old was quizzed about whether he believed he could stay on as national team boss.

"That question is only natural, don’t feel guilty about asking me," he said. "But that comes to the crux of the matter, it doesn’t change anything for me.

"I have the responsibility for what has happened. I picked the players, and of course this is part of a process where I need to get to know players."

Spalletti's coaching career began with Empoli in 1993 and has spanned 11 clubs including Roma, Inter and Napoli

Spalletti bemoaned the lack of time he had spent with his squad, compared to other coaches at the tournament, injuries to certain players and even the fact Inter Milan won the title in April.

"Inter won Serie A and then I made sure they are a very professional, serious club because Simone Inzaghi kept training the team in a certain way," he explained.

"I was in touch with how often Inter were training, but perhaps you are subconsciously not as applied when you have won the league so early."

After suggesting his pushed his players too hard in training before the draw against Croatia, this time he said he had let them rest and made six changes to his line-up.

"What happened tonight didn’t come down to one single cause," he added. '"But if that is the tempo, if you don’t do something more in terms of tempo and intensity, it becomes a lot harder to compete, and we were under par."

Five months into his tenure in Naples, unhappy with the job he was doing, Napoli ultras stole his beloved Fiat Panda and said they would only return it if he left the club.

After this defeat, one Swiss journalist took the opportunity to quip whether Switzerland were now the Ferrari and Italy a Fiat Panda.

"You have to accept everything," said Spalletti. "Even rather tasteless allusions like yours – you are clearly a wonderful exponent of sarcasm, and you are right, what more can you say?

"You did a better job than us, you were worthy winners, and we will try and do a better job next time."

The Napoli ultras eventually gifted Spalletti his steering wheel back when he guided them to a first title in 33 years, and the veteran does not fear question marks over his national team future this time either.

"When you want to scare me, say 'now what, now what'." he added. "I have come under pressure from day one since I decided to become a coach, to make it this far. I am very relaxed in trying to compete at this level."

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