Having to make a second half comeback against the likes of Macedonia isn't exactly something to celebrate for the Italian national team, but there was one massive positive to take from the chaotic 3-2 win: the Italian players finally showed some grinta under new manager Giampaolo Ventura.
Grinta is something you'll often hear referred to by fans of the Italian game, a trait in players and teams lauded as an important characteristic to have, and much missed when absent — but it's rarely explained as to why it is so important. Grinta's closest direct translation is "grit," but as is the case with many Italian colloquialisms, much gets lost in translation. It's similar in many ways to the "heart and hustle" so lauded by English fans, but with an extra dose of edge and guile that British players are often seen to lack. It's also something that the Italian national team has been lacking ever since Ventura took over as manager after Antonio Conte — himself a walking embodiment of grinta — left to manage Chelsea.
That absence has been painfully notable for fans of the national team, who saw far too little fight from their team in a huge friendly loss to France in Ventura's first match in charge. Opportunities wasted away for lack of sufficient effort against Spain in the World Cup qualification. So, when Macedonia shocked Italy by taking a 2-1 lead on Sunday by scoring two quick second-half goals off a pair of Italian errors, fans were worried that their team was done for.
Then the Azzurri dug deep, found their missing grinta, and found a way to win along with it.
It wasn't pretty, but Italy were able to find two goals through oft-overlooked striker Ciro Immobile and the classic Italian style of forcing mistakes and exploiting them ruthlessly. They displayed a degree of focus and drive that had been lacking since Conte's departure. Seeing Italy find that edge again was welcomed by their fans like a parent seeing their child for the first time in months — with eager and unquestioning glee.
Credit: user Meladroit on r/soccer
It's hard to take too much away from Italy coming back against Macedonia — the fact that they even had to speaks to the weaknesses and problems plaguing the proud national team right now. But that Italy were able to fight back, and the way they managed their triumph, was a good sign that they are starting to make progress under Ventura.
There's still a long ways to go before Italy become a real power again, a path they may not reach the end of any time soon. Issues in available depth and the development of new top level players will hold them back for the foreseeable future. There are ways for Ventura and company to work around that, but that's going to be a long feeling out process that won't always work very smoothly.
In the meantime, though, Italy have found their grinta again — and that's a triumph all of its own.