It felt a bit like warming up for an appearance on University Challenge with a humble pub quiz. Everyone knows that the real test comes in September when the Azzurri travel to Spain. But, if you wanted to look closely, there were still things to learn from the comfortable victory over Liechtenstein.
The first, perhaps, and most important, was the need for a clear head and a bit of patience when they head to Madrid for their World Cup qualification key clash. In the first half in Udine, Giampiero Ventura’s side played a frenetic football which produced more frustration than flow. It might have been different if an early Antonio Candreva wondergoal had not been incorrectly ruled out for offside, but nonetheless, it was only when Italy started to put a little more composure into their performance that they really put their opponents to the sword.
Architect in chief of that more clinical approach was Lorenzo Insigne, who is growing more into a classy international player with every game. He might well have added to his goal and assist, but much of the best that the boys in blue produced came through him. The Napoli man will find it harder to unlock the Spanish defence, for sure, but he has the spark of creativity that this side desperately needs.
There was also comfort in Ventura’s reading of a match when you think that all three of his substitutes produced a goal. Federico Bernardeschi, Eder and Manolo Gabbiadini all added something to the side, even if it was, undeniably, against a tiring opponent. It will take all his tactical insight, of course, to secure the victory needed in a few months’ time to knock the group leaders off their pedestal.
The newer faces, too, gave reason for comfort with Leonardo Spinazzola in particular confirming his promise on the left side of the defence. Some players look instantly at home for their country and he is one of them. When they were dishing out character, it appears, he went back for at least a second helping.
It was a little harder to assess Lorenzo Pellegrini, the latest debutant of the Ventura era. He did his job competently enough, but it was not the kind of display that really grabbed the attention. There will be time, however, for him to develop into the role.
Italy made some in-roads into Spain’s goal difference advantage, but it looks unlikely to be enough to get them to the top of the table via that route. It means that only a triumph when they visit the Santiago Bernabeu is likely to be enough to give them automatic qualification for Russia. And that, as we all know, is one of football’s taller orders.
The miserabilists will tell you that it is a task well beyond their means, and they may well be right. This is a side which has yet to entirely convince and no victory over a lowly-ranked outfit was ever going to change that. However, the Azzurri have a habit of producing their very best when the odds look stacked against them and there were a few hints here that they had some of the materials at their disposal to do so again when the occasion arises.
With a cool head, top performances from their most influential players and some astute analysis of their opponents, this team could produce another memorable result. It won’t be easy, of course, but since when have Italy ever liked it easy?