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Italy's title defence began with a bang, ends with a whimper

LEIPZIG, Germany: Defending champions Italy were never among the favourites coming into Euro 2024, but nobody predicted just how poor they would be, and they leave the tournament having surrendered their crown with barely a whimper.

Italy surprised many three years ago when they won the European Championship, but they leave Germany without ever having looked capable of making a mark, at least not a positive one.

In the round of 16 on Saturday, Luciano Spalletti's side came up against a confident, settled Switzerland, a team which had already impressed in their draw with Germany, and Italy for long periods looked completely out of their depth.

The signs were there in the group stage, where they began with a win but then risked an early exit, and Italian fans could be forgiven for wishing it had indeed all ended sooner, their side playing as though they just wanted the suffering to end.

Even in the opening win against Albania they conceded the fastest ever goal scored at the Euros, perhaps a sign that Italian minds and hearts were never really on the job.

That comeback 2-1 win showed promise and character, and there was much talk of never writing Italy off at a major tournament. But that would be as good as it got.

On paper Italy suffered a narrow defeat against Spain, with a Riccardo Calafiori own goal the only difference between the teams. On the pitch, they were outclassed and dominated by a young, energetic Spanish side.

After that harsh lesson, Italy were expected to deal better with an ageing Croatia team, but they did little to impress and needed a 98th minute goal from substitute Mattia Zaccagni to rescue a 1-1 draw and reach the last 16 as group runners up.

If Spain can be categorised as youthful and the Croatians as the

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