Postcards from Italy

Forza Azzurri! Italy’s National Team and the European Championships

Italy is obsessed with football (that’s soccer for us and calcio in Italy) as a general rule, but during big championships, enthusiasm from die-hard and even fair-weather fans reaches a fever pitch. Last night, Italy won the semifinals for the 2020 UEFA European Football Championship (delayed to this summer due to Covid-related restrictions) and is barreling towards the finals on July 11th and calcio is on everyone’s mind. 

Italian soccer passion
“Italian Soccer Passion” by Seth Sawyers via Flickr under license CC BY 2.0

If you’ve caught a bit of footie fever and have been following the championship, you may have some questions about Italy’s national team, commonly known as “Gli Azzurri”. 

Why is the team called Gli Azzurri?

Simply stated, the Italian national team is called “Gli Azzurri”, or “The Blues”, because of their bright blue jerseys. You may be surprised to learn that, as a rule, Italian sports teams do not wear uniforms made from the colors of the Italian flag (red, white, and green). Instead, they wear azure blue and white, which is a custom dating from Italy’s pre-republican days. Blue was the official color of the Savoys, Italy’s royal house. Despite the fact that Italy is now a democratic republic, this tribute to the Italian monarchy continues today.

Is the Italian team the only European team that doesn’t wear the colors of their national flag?

No, Italy is not alone in playing in colors that do not reflect their national flag. Germany plays in white (reflecting the flag of the former German Empire Prussia) and Holland plays in orange (in honor of historic hero William Orange).

Is it true that the Azzurri’s uniforms were designed by Armani?

Yes and no. Emporio Armani currently designs the national team’s off-field formal uniforms (the suits the team wears for official photographs and events). This isn’t big news in Italy; the Armani company created the off-field formal uniforms for the 2012 national team, 2016 Olympics, and 1994 World Cup. This year’s uniforms are light blue-and-white seersucker blazers with a Mandarin collar over relaxed black trousers. According to the official press release, the uniforms were inspired by the style and elegance of Enzo Bearzot, a player and coach whom many credit with helping the Italian team win the 1982 World Cup.

Where can I find official Azzurri gear?

You can buy a replica of the Italian national team’s official blue home jersey or white away jersey via the FIGC (Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio) website. Even if you’re not interested in swag, a quick visit to the home page to watch a diverse group of Italians endearingly sing the national anthem is worth it.

Stadio Olimpico - FORZA ROMA!
Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr

Who does Italy play next?

The next game is the UEFA finals, scheduled for July 11th at London’s Wembley Stadium, which is also where the Italy/Spain semifinal match was played. Gli Azzurri will take the field against either Denmark or England, depending upon who wins the semifinal match tonight at Wembley. England is favored against Denmark, having won five of the last seven matches against the Danes played at Wembley. That said, England has been victorious only once in the last six competitive matches against Denmark overall (in the second round of the 2002 World Cup) and Denmark is playing with heart. The Three Lions are known to choke (England has played more games in the European Championships without reaching the finals over the years than any other country), so it’s still anyone’s game to win or lose.

Can Italy win the 2020 European Championships?

This is the million-dollar question (literally…like all major sports, soccer is big business in Europe). Italy’s coach, Roberto Mancini, has stated repeatedly that he thinks the team has what it takes to make grab the trophy and the team has been playing well (despite the rather lackluster game last night, which even faithful fans concede was won more by luck than by skill). After disappointing UEFA championship performances in recent years, this national team has set a new team record with 33 consecutive wins after the Spain victory. Italy has been one of the favorites to win the Euros, along with England, for the entire championships and so far has lived up to the hype.

Is Italy really that good at soccer?

In short, yes. Italy has long been one of the strongest teams in the world and among the most successful national teams in the history of the World Cup, where it has won four titles (1934, 1938, 1982, and 2006 plus reaching the finals in 1970 and 1994). That said, the national team hasn’t taken home a UEFA wine since 1968, though it made it to the finals in both 2000 and 2012. Domestically, Italy is home to a number of formidable teams—including the Serie A powerhouses Juventus, Inter, and Milan—and iconic players like Sandro Mazzola, Gigi Riva, Giuseppe Meazza, Dino Zoff (keeper), Paolo Rossi, Roberto Baggio, Gianluigi Buffon (keeper), Alessandro del Piero, and Francesco Totti.  

How can I watch the finals on Sunday?

ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 are broadcasting all the UEFA matches, including the semifinal tonight and the final match on Sunday.

Italian Fans
“Italian Fans” by Olaf Nordwich via Flickr under license CC BY-SA 2.0

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