Italy lie 15th in the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women's Ranking
They are set for their first Women's World Cup since 1999
FIFA.com explores the reasons behind their rise
When Italy booked their return to the FIFA Women's World Cup™ after nearly two decades away, the country was still processing the failure of the men's team to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™. While the Azzurri's failure was down to a catalogue of errors, the success of the women's side is clearly the result of many years of hard work.
In addition to clinching a place at France 2019, Italy have also climbed in the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women's Ranking, reaching as high as 15th in the most recent table published in March.
"Qualifying felt like a retaliation for us, the players, and above all for Italy, at a time when people were disappointed in our national teams," explained Italy forward Barbara Bonansea, speaking to FIFA.com.
"The media talked a lot about it, especially because it came just after the men's team were eliminated in the play-offs for the 2018 World Cup."
Italy's place in the global hierarchy:
Current ranking: 15th (March 2019)
Best ranking: 10th (July 2003)
Worst ranking: 19th (March 2017)
Strangely enough, although the Azzurre no longer grace the top ten, as they did in 2003, their current level – and the level of Italian women's football in general – is light years ahead of where it stood at the start of the century. After all, despite their lofty position at the time, Italy fell short of qualifying for the Women's World Cup in 2003.
Fifteen years on from that setback, they secured their place at the 2019 edition with relative ease, winning each of their first seven qualifiers in a group also featuring Belgium and Portugal, two other nations where women's football is on the rise.
"We're not satisfied with just having qualified," defender Alia Guagni told FIFA.com. "We want everyone to know who we are and to show our worth, and we really hope to go quite far."
The Fiorentina player has every reason to feel ambitious, particularly given Italy's recent results. Since going down 2-1 away to Belgium in their final qualifier – with a place at France 2019 already in the bag – they have lost just one of ten games in normal time, a 5-2 friendly defeat by Germany.
They were also beaten on penalties by Korea DPR in the final of the prestigious Cyprus Cup, but otherwise their results have included a 1-0 win against Sweden, a 2-1 victory against Chile and a 4-1 defeat of Thailand, each of those sides having qualified for France 2019.
Little surprise, then, that Italy's fans will make the short trip beyond the Alps full of optimism, hoping to see their team demonstrate their progress on the world stage.
"The supporters who travel to watch us are very important, because they give us strength and an energy boost whenever we face difficult moments on the pitch," said Guagni. "They give us the little bit of help we need. It's a key factor."
"Our sport is growing quickly, and the support of our fans is an additional weapon," added midfielder Alice Parisi, speaking to FIFA.com. "To see more and more fans following us is very important."
Like her Fiorentina team-mate Guagni, Parisi was part of the action at Juventus Stadium in March when La Viola faced the hosts in a top-of-the-table Serie A showdown in front of a record 39,000 spectators. That impressive figure reflects a widespread growth in public interest, spurred largely by the recent investment of professional clubs such as Juve, Roma, AC Milan and Inter Milan. In turn, the rising popularity of women's football in Italy has helped it to grow and narrow the gap to Europe's strongest nations.
As Milan forward Valentina Giacinti told FIFA.com recently: "It's very important to have professional clubs because that allows us to train every day, which wasn't the case before. We now have access to physios, doctors and training pitches. We train in the morning and no longer in the evening, which is better in terms of recovery. All of that has helped women's football reach a new level in Italy."
Despite stamping their World Cup ticket and boosting their ranking position, nobody is resting on their laurels and Italy will now look to take the next step in their development – by putting in a strong performance at France 2019.