It took 70 minutes or so for the penny to drop. Up until then Italy were heading for a sad old start to this new Nations League competition. But then Roberto Mancini played his last card - a little purple ace - and Federico Chiesa came up trumps once again. Some players look born to play for their country, and the boy appears as if he’s been wearing Azzurri blue since his father Enrico first held him in his arms.
It was not that he did a huge amount in his 20 minutes or so - although he did win the penalty that salvaged a point - but more about his attitude. The team had look flatter than a freshly cooked piadina until his enterprise and adventure spiced things up. In his present form, he is knocking on the Nazionale door with the all the subtlety of a battering ram. Ignore him at your peril.
The first half of the clash in Bologna was a particularly dispiriting one. The hosts looked bereft of ideas to break down a solid Poland side, while more brittle than an overbaked breadstick in defence. The visitors were slick enough on the break to create the better chances with Gigio Donnarumma brilliantly thwarting one opportunity, but he could do nothing about Piotr Zielinski’s crisp opener. With so many Serie A players in their squad, it was odds on one of them would hurt his adoptive homeland.
This was the peak of Italian confusion. A midfield of Jorginho, Lorenzo Pellegrini and Roberto Gagliardini sent too many passes astray, as the action was too frenetic for much composure to break out. It left the old double act of Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci exposed a bit too often for comfort. There were flashes from Federico Bernardeschi and Lorenzo Insigne up front - more from the Juve man - but not enough to construct much hope from. And in between them was the desperate void left by Mario Balotelli.
Only Mancini will know how precarious the hitman’s physical condition was before kick-off, but he was about as involved as a butcher at a vegan birthday party. The whole team did not play well, but he struggled throughout his hour or so on the pitch. It felt like merciful relief for player and supporters when he departed to allow the more bullish Andrea Belotti to come on. He, like Chiesa, helped in livening up what had largely been a dirge to that point.
Who knows, of course, if the Azzurri had started the personnel they finished with how different things might have been? That can only be pure speculation, but they still look a bit stretched by trying to play an aggressive, attacking 4-3-3. The demands it places on the midfield in particular look just too great for the players currently available.
It’s nice to think Italy can go out and impose themselves on every side they encounter, but the reality looks quite different. A splash of pragmatism - traditionally a fine quality of their football - would go a long way.
The boys in blue go again on Monday in Portugal and Mancini will no doubt be running his fingers through those flowing locks in contemplation of who to play. His midfield struggled, the defence looked breachable with neither Davide Zappacosta nor Cristiano Biraghi providing the attacking thrust hoped for on the flanks either. The shots on target total could be counted on one hand with fingers to spare.
But, despite his protestations to the contrary at full-time, he must have the pride of Florence at the heart of his thoughts. Perhaps he does not want to heap too much expectation on such a young talent, but those of us who write about the game are allowed to do so.
At the moment, he looks about the most exciting, enterprising and energetic option at the disposal of a team trying to rebuild its international reputation. For now, they surely can’t afford to leave him kicking his heels on the sidelines for an hour or more.
Chiesa is the spark this team needs to get its engine running. There are more where he came from, but he looks one of those most ready to revive the Azzurri’s fortunes. Be bold, Mancio, and have faith in Fede.