The mood around the Italy camp hasn’t been this elated since the Antonio Conte era at the Euro 2016. In fact, there is currently strong optimism among all fronts of Italian football on the international stage.
The Italy side have ignited the Under-20 World Cup with star striker Andrea Pinamonti. The Azzurre recently performed a monumental upset against the Matildas in the Women’s World Cup. And then there is the U21 Italy side – brimmed with incredible talent – aiming to go all the way on their home turf in the 2019 European Under-21 Championship. So Italian football appears to be making its presence felt on the international stage once again.
In the senior men’s Italian team, the integration of talented youth, mixture of veterans and a new playing identity are all paying dividends for the Azzurri in the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign so far. The way the Nazionale has been able to dictate the tempo, score 11 goals and to concede none in their last three Euro qualifiers against Finland, Liechtenstein and Greece should be commended.
However, Mancini’s men cannot afford to fall into the trap of complacency when they take on a problematic Bosnia side later this evening.
Bosnia-Herzegovina, just like Italy, play in a 4-3-3 formation and like to impose their attacking style of football right from the beginning. Robert Prosinecki’s men also enjoy controlling the midfield through Miralem Pjanic and expose opponent defenders off set-pieces and corner kicks through Edin Dzeko. When the Zmajevi (The Dragons) faced Greece back in March, the Bosnians showed why they are a lethal side in attack by scoring two goals in the space of five minutes.
A decent portion of Bosnia’s players ply their trade in Europe’s elite leagues, including Pjanic and Dzeko playing for two of Serie A’s biggest clubs. There is no doubt that these Bosnian stars will know where to expose Italy’s flaws.
Italian midfielders Jorginho, Marco Verratti and NicolòBarella must ensure that they limit the space for Pjanic to roam in. The Juventus midfielder is the brains for Bosnia in the middle of the pitch – the orchestrator in threading through balls and feeding Dzeko from set-pieces and corner kicks.
With the Azzurri receiving no real goalscoring threats in their last three Euro qualifiers, the Italian defending will need to be well prepared to fend off the substantial aerial threat of Dzeko. As we have seen in Serie A, all the Roma striker needs is one decent cross in the box to head the ball into the net. Italy’s centre-backs Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci must use their physicality to repel the ball from aerial situations in the Italian 18-yard box.
The Italians will also have to keep tabs on Bosnia’s Edin Visca. The right winger is a clinical finisher when given a chance on goal, but his crossing abilities means he will need to be monitored continuously by Italy’s left back, in this case, most likely Emerson Palmieri.
However, with Bosnia heavily reliant on their star playmaker Pjanic to control the passing game and build up the attacking plays, this could work in favour of Mancini’s men. If the Italian midfield and defence can cut the supply to Bosnia’s forward line and isolate Pjanic from the action, then that could almost allow the Azzurri to dictate the tempo for most of the game.
You could see how much Pjanic’s creativity was missed in Bosnia’s 2-0 loss to Finland this past weekend. Also, without wing-back Sead Kolasinac and Empoli midfielder Rade Krunic, that does take a significant toll on Bosnia’s dynamism, experience and consistency.
Another issue that the Zmajevi currently can’t address is their capitulation in defence, particularly in the second half. In the game against Greece, Bosnia gave up their firm 2-0 lead by losing their tactical structure. During the recent fixture against Finland, the Bosnians were picked apart on the counter-attacks by Finnish striker Teemu Pukki. With Prosinecki’s side sometimes committing too many players up front in attack, the flood gates open.
While Italy are the favourites due to home advantage and recent form, the Azzurri cannot afford to snub this capable Bosnian side, who are aiming to qualify for their first ever Euro competition. This fixture will arguably be the toughest contest for the Nazionale so far – possibly giving the Italians the motivation to extend their five-point gap to eight over the Bosnians in Group J.