Football (or “soccer” for my American and Australian friends) is a pretty simple game. Twenty-two guys kick a ball around for an hour and a half, they fall over a lot, and the game often ends without anyone scoring. That much anyone can glean from watching it for a while. Of course there are tactics. Football people will talk for hours about formations and methods of attack and defense, but these are largely invisible to the TV watcher because so much of the action happens off the ball. I don’t pretend to understand it all myself. But what about the tournament itself. Are there strategies for that? Well yes, I think they are, and I think they are quite simple.
In the group stage you need to have a team that is good at scoring goals in the face of a determined defense. If you don’t, you are liable to find your team held to a 0-0 draw by a team of no-hopers from a country you hadn’t heard of before they qualified for the tournament. These teams can’t score against a good side except by luck, but there is a fair amount of luck in the game so you have to be able to score a couple of goals.
The knock-out stage is quite different. Here your first priority is to be able to prevent the good attacking sides that have made it through this far from scoring. At this stage a loss is fatal, and most coaches would rather risk going out on penalties than risk attacking too much during the game and conceding goals.
A corollary of this is that the longer the Italians stay in the tournament, the more chance they have of winning.