Spalletti: “An exceptional response from Bari”The Azzurri will face Malta at a sold-out San Nicola tomorrow. Donnarumma: “A great feeling to be back here”
Friday, October 13, 2023
Three points to take another step towards the European Championship and build on the win over Ukraine in September: this is the Azzurri’s objective in Bari, where they’ll face Malta at a packed Stadio San Nicola at 20:45 CEST tomorrow evening.
Italy are undoubtedly the favourites against a side who they beat 2-0 in the reverse fixture in Ta ‘Qali (goals from Retegui and Pessina) on 26 March. However, it would be wrong to take to the pitch thinking that a win is already in the bag: “We mustn’t make the mistake of being complacent because where presumption begins, improvement ends,” warned Luciano Spalletti in his pre-match press conference this evening. “I’ve seen the lads making big strides forward, but we need to be aware of Malta’s quality. Marcolini has his team playing good football, and they’ll be motivated. After all, playing against Italy is a big deal, and they did well in the reverse fixture. For us, it’s a must-win game; we won’t get the points on offer back in any other game. We need to avoid getting so caught up in playing attacking football that we become disorganised when they try to counter.”
First and foremost, Italy need to focus on themselves: “Being aware of our own strength and the direction we want to head is much more important than knowing the strengths of Malta and England. When we’re aware of where we want to go and who we want to be, these sides will be tough obstacles that need to be overcome to bring joy to those who care for us.”
The Azzurri, who are ready to take to the pitch at the Stadio San Nicola for the first time in over seven years, will be supported by over 55,000 fans in the stands: “Bari has responded brilliantly to the National Team’s arrival, and we want to thank the fans for the backing they’ll give us. It’ll really help us.”
Spalletti won’t be able to count on Chiesa and Zaccagni tomorrow: the former has left the Italy camp due to injury, while the Lazio attacker has remained at Coverciano and will continue to work with a dedicated staff member. There is a new face in the group, however, namely Stephan El Shaarawy, who has returned to the Italy fold for the first time in two and a half years.
With the Turin Public Prosecutor's Office having placed Tonali and Zaniolo under formal investigation, the duo also won’t be at the disposal of Spalletti, who had the following to say about the affair: “We cannot remain stuck in this situation and must move beyond it. We’ve had all day to analyse it, feel this sense of disappointment and confusion, but tomorrow we must get back to taking action; it must be left out. With the situation that had been created, we had no other choice but to send them back to their families, homes and clubs. I hope they can clarify everything, prove their innocence and return to us, as they are two very strong players. We want to be a professional team, a group that gives a fair representation of the beauty we’ve been given, the beauty of being able to represent the National Team.”
Jack Bonaventura could play against Malta and England: “He’s playing some great football and displaying the maturity he’s developed thanks to the lessons he’s taught himself; he’s an intelligent lad and deserved to be called up.” Despite all the absences, no further players will be added to the squad for now. The versatility of Udogie, who is in the squad for the first time, could prove useful: “We have five natural midfielders and Udogie, who is playing in midfield in the Premier League and possesses the kind of physicality that could come in handy.”
DONNARUMMA’S THOUGHTS. Sitting next to the Head Coach was Gianluigi Donnarumma, who is back at the stadium where he made his Italy debut aged 17 years and 189 days on 1 September 2016, thus becoming the youngest goalkeeper to have ever worn the Azzurri shirt. “Being here brings out emotions; it’s always great to return to Bari. We’ve started a journey and will try to win all of our games. We’re constantly following the Coach’s instructions and training intensely, all the while taking it game by game. We’re focused on tomorrow’s match, which will be difficult like every game. We’ll need to take to the pitch with the right mindset and try to pick up these three points. Then, our attentions will turn to England. That’ll be a difficult match, but we’ll go there to win.”
Donnarumma, who considers it a “source of great pride” to wear the captain’s armband, expressed his support for Tonali and Zaniolo: “We’re close to them and sympathise with them on a human and sporting level. The last 24 hours have been strange, but the morale of the team hasn’t been affected. Our focus is on training and playing.” In September, Spalletti said that those with great talent should never rest on their laurels: “He’s correct; you can never think you’ve made it and should always work on your talent, which is the most important thing to grow even more.”