Sunday November 17 2019
Mancini: 'Italy embraced new ideas'

Roberto Mancini was surprised by how quickly Italy assimilated his positive football ideas, “focusing more on quality. This is the path forward now.”

The Azzurri can complete a perfect qualifying record in Group J with their final match against Armenia, which kicks off in Palermo on Monday at 19.45 GMT.

“I didn’t expect to win 10 games in a row, but the qualification to Euro 2020 is what really matters more than the record,” said the CT in his press conference.

“Even then, the primary objective when taking this job was not to win, but to bring the fans back to the Nazionale and give the players the opportunity to adopt a winning style of football. We knew that if we managed that, the results would come as a consequence.

“We didn’t want to win by defending and going on the counter, but by trying to take the initiative and control the match. That means taking some risks too, but the players assimilated these ideas very quickly.

“This is the path forward now, we see no other option. Our mentality has to be a positive one, playing quality football. We might not win them all, but that must be the approach to every game.”

Mancini took over in the wake of Giampiero Ventura’s dire tenure, which saw Italy fail to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

“When I spoke to the players the first time, I told them that I wanted to do something different. Fortunately, the lads believed in these ideas too and were open to focusing more on quality and less on physicality.

“If we recover the ball quickly, we are less likely to concede chances at the back. It might seem banal, but that’s the truth of pressing football.

“It took a while to really settle, as in the Nations League we could’ve beaten Ukraine 5-0 and instead it ended 1-1, while we dominated Portugal at San Siro, but that too was a draw. Now we have improved and we’ll keep getting stronger.

“The most important thing is that we have this good feeling bonding everyone both on and off the field. I’ll be honest, I didn’t think we’d advance this quickly, as I expected us to be at this level come March or April 2020. We’re ahead of schedule.

“The younger players surprised me and really grasped their opportunities with both hands. There were some foundations to build on, as while it’s true Jorginho and Marco Verratti had only played one game together for Italy, there was no way I could leave them out.”

Mancini said he has already whittled down his short-list for the 23-man squad going to Euro 2020 and few real changes are expected.

“It’s going to be really tough for me to leave any of these lads at home when the time comes. We’ve still got areas we need to improve on, as for example in Bosnia on Friday we left gaps at the back. Score goals, defend well and play the ball, those are the three most important things for a strong team.”

The enthusiasm has certainly returned for the Azzurri, as over 20,000 tickets have been sold at the Stadio Renzo Barbera in Palermo for the Armenia match.

“It is a great pleasure to be here. Palermo has always deserved Serie A football and its fans are second to none. We need our supporters and hope to enjoy our evening together, even if it won’t be a game to be taken for granted.”

Several changes are expected from the side that beat Bosnia and Herzegovina 3-0 on Friday.

“There is fatigue, so there will be changes. I can say Federico Chiesa will start and I expect a great performance from everyone. There are three or four players who will be extra motivated to prove they deserve their place.”

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