The Siamese twins of football
On Friday night, the UEFA EURO 2020 opening match will be played at the Stadio Olympico in Rome, where the hosts from Italy will meet Turkey. The expectations for the Italian national football team – “Gli Azzurri” – are, as always, ahead of international championships, especially in Italy. The reason is that the football-loving nation is one of the strongest in the world, of which 4 world championships (1934, 1938, 1982 and 2006) are clear proof. Football often evokes strong emotions, not least in Italy, where “the azure” is one of the few things that connects poor southern Italy with rich northern Italy. Prior to the opening match, the feelings among the Italians are also strongly divided about whether national coach Roberto Mancini should choose the two “Siamese twins” – Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini – for the starting line-up – as they have been more than 100 times before. After all, age catches up with everyone – even two of the world’s best defenders.
Bonnucci – part of the world’s strongest defense quartet
The 34-year-old Leonardo Bonnucci was born and raised in Viterbo – a provincial town with 70,000 inhabitants a little north of Rome – where he also played youth football. As an 18-year-old, he signed a contract with the Milan club Inter, which quickly rented him out to Serie B clubs such as A.C. Treviso, S.S.C. Bari and C.F.C Genoa. It was only with the change in 2010 to the big club Juventus F.C. that Bonnuci’s national and international career really took off. Bonnuci became a defensive partner with the experienced national team player Andrea Barzagli and the two year older Giorgio Chiellini. And with goalkeeper legend Gianluigi Buffon as extra guard behind the three back-backs. A quartet that in record time developed into the world’s strongest football defense.
Chiellini – “The old lady’s defense general”
The 36-year-old Giorgio Chiellini was born in Pisa and already at the age of 16 he made his debut for Serie C club A.S. Livorno Calcio. After short stays in A.S. Roma and A.C.F. In 2005, he signed a contract with Juventus F.C., which he has represented for the past 16 seasons. Results with “La Vecchia Signora” are completely unique: 9 national championships, 5 cup titles and more than 400 matches in Serie A. In addition, more than 70 matches in the Champions League, where he has been a losing finalist twice (2015 and 2017). Chiellini was already selected for the Italian U-16 at the age of 15 and in 2005 he made his debut on the Italian A national team. Chiellini is today facing his 6th international finals (European Championships 2008, 2012 and 2016 as well as the World Cup 2010 and 2014) – and maybe not even the last. However, Chiellini has been badly injured in recent seasons, but Juventus’ new head coach Massimilano Allegri has just stated that he is betting on the duo Bonnuci and Chiellini as key figures when Juventus try to reclaim the national championship – “Scudetto” – next season.
A unique partnership with world-class core competencies
The two Siamese twins – Chiellini and Bonucci – have been the central defense over the past decade, both at Juventus F.C. as on the Italian national team. They have both passed more than 100 international matches and together with Gianluigi Buffon, who achieved 161 international matches in the period 1997 – 2017, the two class players have created respect and recognition far beyond “the boot country”. Both Chiellini and Bonucci have a number of physical, technical, tactical and mental qualities, but the core competencies of the two are different. Bonnuci in particular possesses technical skills at an unusually high level, being able to launch attacks with long and precise passes. He is far from one of the fastest defenders, but his positioning ability and game intelligence have international top quality. Chiellini is undoubtedly one of the world’s strongest defenders in the man-to-man game. In addition, he has a very strong header, both in defense and offense. Furthermore, he is – both verbally and playfully – a natural conductor of his teammates, which has also made him captain, both on club and national teams. The two players’ core competencies thus complement each other and so many years of cooperation between the two also give a very special trust and belief in each other. As they have put it in a double interview in the largest Italian sports newspaper “Gazzatta dello Sport”: “We know each other far better than our spouses know us”.
“Gli Azzuri” – No one wins titles solely on strong defensive play
Italy has “only” won the European Championship once, at home in 1968. Only 4 nations – Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union, England and Italy – participated in the final round, where the semi-final between Italy and the Soviet Union ended without a goal despite extended playing time. The finalist – Italy – was then found by drawing lots outside the two changing rooms. Italy has been represented in a total of 9 out of 15 European Championship tournaments and twice the “azure” have been losing finalists (2000 and 2012). I believe that Italy has a very good chance of reaching either the semi-finals or the final of UEFA EURO 2020. The lack of qualification for the FIFA World Cup 2018 has in many ways been a turning point for the proud football nation and under the leadership of former world-class striker Roberto Mancini. Italy had won all matches in the European Championship qualifiers and is undefeated in the last 27 international matches. A world-class goalkeeper in the form of Gianlugi Donnarumma from AC Milan, who has lifted the legacy of Gianluigi Buffon and the Juventus duo – Bonnuci and Chiellini – have not conceded goals in the last eight internationals. However, a strong defense today is not enough to win either the European Championship or the World Cup trophy. The optimism among the Italians is therefore also linked to a very exciting midfield trio consisting of the class players: Marco Verratti from Paris Saint-Germain, Jorginho from the Champion League winners Chelsea and the super-talented Nicolo Beralla from the national champions Inter. At the forefront are the profiles of the “azure” Ciro Immobile from S.S. Lazio, Federico Chiesa from Juventus F.C. and Lorenzo Insigne of S.S.C. Naples.
Better ten wins at 1-0 than one win at 10-0
On Friday night, the captain of “Gli Azzurri” – Giorgio Chiellini – together with his teammates will do everything to give Italy a good start to UEFA EURO 2020 with a victory or at least a draw against Turkey – a nation that Italy has never lost to. Chiellini stated a few years ago that “… I would much rather win ten matches with 1-0 than one match with 10-0”. If it happens in the coming weeks, the road to another great triumph for the “azure” will be open – Forza Italia!
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