Two weeks ago, we all held the highest of hopes for Italy. They'd just beaten England 2-1, looked pretty decent doing it, and seemed to have the momentum and quality needed to get out of their group easily.
Of course, two weeks ago, Italy were still in the World Cup.
Losses to Costa Rica and Uruguay sealed Gli Azzurri's fate, sending them home far earlier than expected or hoped by Italy fans. They looked incredibly poor in flailing their way out of the tournament, with their second two opponents having too easy a time shutting down Italy's creative forces and stranding an increasingly-frustrated Mario Balotelli up top with little to no support.
Cesare Prandelli seemed to read his opponents wrong twice in a row, setting up his side in ways that just didn't seem suited to the task at hand. Against Costa Rica he was far too conservative and restrained, leaving the side little chance to be able to push for the early goal they needed to pull their opponents out of their defensive shell. Then once Costa Rica scored for themselves, they just drew their shell in even tighter and left Italy no room to break them down.
Against Uruguay, Prandelli was far too eager to settle for a scoreless draw, putting out a side even more conservative still. He put two strikers up top in an ill-suited paring of Balotelli and Ciro Immobile, with neither player having the creativity needed to make things happen even if their supply from midfield dried up, which it did in a hurry. The other eight outfielders were all packed in behind the ball, with the wingbacks and Claudio Marchisio not given as much liscence to get forward as you'd typically want to see. Then after making more and more defensive-oriented substitutions, Prandelli had no way to get his side to effectively chase a goal when Uruguay inevitably scored.
Seeing Prandelli get so conservative in this tournament was bizarre, because that wasn't what got Italy this far. His side was aggressive, creative, and more fun to watch than any Azzurri side in years during Euro 2012 and much of the qualifying stage. For some reason, though, this pragmatic side of his started to creep in over the last year or so, and it cost him and Italy dearly once the chips were down.
Prandelli is now out of a job after resigning. FIGC President Giancarlo Abete resigned along with him. Now Italy will be searching not only for a new manager, but for answers as to how to make things work right. Prandelli seemed to have it figured out, but then his solution evaporated as quickly as it came.
One of the favorites for the job is Roberto Mancini, who has shown an ability to combine the pragmatism that Italians love in their football with the flair needed to succeed on the biggest of stages in this modern era of football. While obviously Italy is not Manchester City, where he won an unlikely English Premier League title, the players available to him with the Azzurri should be able to fit in to his ideals of a functioning squad without too much re-working.
Whether that squad will include Andrea Pirlo and Gianluigi Buffon is still unknown. Italy's two most experienced and arguably their best players are both of an age where continuing to play international football might not be the in their best interests. Pirlo had indicated some time ago that this World Cup would be the last of his days pulling on an Italy shirt, but in light of the squad's failure in this tournament it sounds as though he might be reconsidering that opinion.
If they do leave, Italy loses both its captain (Buffon) and vice-captain (Pirlo). Who does the onus of player leadership go to then? Many assume Daniele De Rossi, but he's long been inconsistent with the national side and hasn't always displayed the kind of leadership you want your captain to have at either the club or international levels. Get past him and the next best option would be one of Juventus' central defenders that are so relied upon, and I'm not sure anyone wants to see the likes of Giorgio Chiellini wearing the captain's armband.
This is not going to be an easy period for Italy to work their way through. Not only is their managerial situation in flux, but the squad is as well. Euro 2016 will be a fascinating litmus test to see how their progression has gone, but in the meantime we might be in for a very rough ride indeed.