Head coach Davide Giuliano has ‘underdog’ Team Italy ready for gold medal match despite two year break

It is rare you find yourself in a championship game where almost nothing is known about one of the contenders, but that is the place we find ourselves in ahead of the IFAF European Championship game.

Through no fault of their own, Team Italy will arrive at Sunday’s gold medal game in Malmö having not played a game of any sort in two years. Qualification win over Austria and Switzerland way back in 2019 put them into the semi-finals, but the global pandemic racked up delays until this August. That’s when a COVID outbreak on Team France forced the game’s cancellation and gave the Italians an automatic berth into the big game.

While this version of the team is unfamiliar to fans, there is no question that there is talent enough on the roster to deserve this opportunity. Linebacker Enzo Mensah and receiver Simone Alinovi are just two of the expected standouts, but there is also a crew of prominent dual citizens that should make an impact on the game. That list includes quarterbacks Luke Zahradka and Reilly Hennessy, running back Mike Gentili, and Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns defenders Cody Pastorino and Nick Alfieri.

With little framework for what to expect and anticipation rising for the country’s first gold medal game appearance since 1995, American Football International spoke to Team Italy head coach Davide Giuliano for his thoughts ahead of the matchup with Team Sweden.

American Football International: When it comes to football in Europe, the stage doesn’t get any bigger than the European championship game. How do you keep a team grounded and focused ahead of what will be the biggest game of most of their lives?

Davide Giuliano: It’s what we’ve been working for since 2014. We’re grounded and focused since we know we are the underdogs and we will have to fight at our best, mentally and physically, against a very strong Team Sweden, but, most of all, we’re enjoying the moment. No one would have expected us the be here at this point. The last step is the hardest but it’s here, in front of us… we only need to step up.
AFI: Your team was unable to play a semi-final game due to a COVID outbreak on Team France. What sort of challenges come with being thrown directly into a European final without prior game-play?
Giuliano: Not playing the semi-final game was a shock for us, we were ready to play at our best. We haven’t played a game in two years now, but we’re ready to play and challenge Team Sweden.
AFI: Sweden has proven themselves capable with two big wins over Finland. What do you see on tape from that team that has made them successful thus far?
Giuliano: Team Sweden is a very good and well-managed team, strong upfront, with a solid defense and a very good passing game. A tough opponent indeed.
AFI: Having not played, what do you view as the biggest strength on this Team Italy roster?
Giuliano: We believe our best strength is how we step on the field as a unit. It’s not easy with national teams, but we’ve been working hard to build a solid group of men who really believe in and rely on each other.
AFI: What will be the key to success for your team this Sunday? What battle has to be won for your team to emerge on top?
Giuliano: On defense, we need to be successful at containing Team Sweden’s QB Philip Juhlin and his receiving corps. On offense, we need to be patient and work hard to get first downs and possibly score.

AFI: Italy has not won a European title since 1987. What would bringing the title back to its first home after 34 years mean for you and your team?

Giuliano: We are not used to think of what will happen ‘if,’ we are just enjoying the moment. We’ve been working very hard to get to this point and now we deserve to enjoy every moment before the final whistle.

Watch the game live here. Team Italy @ Team Sweden, Sunday, October 31, 12:00 CET (12 noon, 7 am ET).

J.C. Abbott is a student at the University of British Columbia and amateur football coach in Vancouver, Canada. A CFL writer for 3DownNation, his love of travel has been the root of his fascination with the global game.