Roberto Mancini’s Italy had already qualified for Euro 2020, setting a new standard by breaking Vittorio Pozzo’s record from the 1930s, but they weren’t ready to stop there. Rewind one year and who would have thought this Italy would be the one going into the history books?
The perfect 10 was completed with an astonishing 9-1 win over Armenia, as if there weren’t enough records to be broken at once. The 11th win in a row and with 10 out of 10 this calendar year, the biggest ever win since 9-0 against the USA in 1948, and Mancini has made Azzurri look like a real contender again.
If you had ever given up on Italy, now it’s time to have faith again. It seemed like people still didn’t want to believe in Italy, even after their first record-breaking 3-0 win over Bosnia. The problems have been highlighted and underlined so many times, by pundits and former players. Even if there are still some issues, despite this only being the qualification phase and that it remains to be seen if Italy could really compete with the best European nations next summer, this moment should be enjoyed.
It didn’t take long until the party had started at the Renzo Barbera. There were four goals within 33 minutes, as Ciro Immobile had scored his second for the night, adding to the goals from Nicolò Zaniolo and Nicolò Barella, was enough to make sure the game was done and dusted at 4-0 up when the Portuguese official Tiago Martins sent the teams into the dressing room for 15 minutes.
This could give them the chance to get the job done without making too much effort in the second half. In a week when a youth team coach was sacked for winning 27-0 and ‘disrespecting’ the opposition, Italian football showed why it lacks a killer instinct and tends to step off the gas at a ‘decent’ 4-0 result.
But remember, this is a record-breaking team. It couldn’t really end with a classic Italian side moving the ball around the pitch, making sure they went back to their respective clubs without too much fatigue from the international break. This is the future, not those old-fashioned ideas. They were determined to continue in the same manner.
The second half against Armenia represented something that was missing from the Azzurri before Mancini’s reign. All the players were running for each other, enjoying their time together on the pitch in Palermo in a way that I can’t remember seeing previously. Debutants like Riccardo Orsolini and Alex Meret were eager to get on, even at 6-0. The smiles are back, and they are genuinely enjoying playing for the national team again.
Federico Chiesa had an amazing night, involved directly in three goals, and every time Italy went forward, he had a say. The same can be said about Orsolini coming on to make an instant impact in the second half. When the Italy games would normally die down and lose a bit of intensity, Mancini spurred them on by injecting hunger and youth.
The step overs, the one-twos, the tackles and the spirit shown by this young Italy team was extremely pleasing. During a football match, you often get time to criticise players during poor spells and break in the play. Talk about why he shouldn’t be playing for Italy, or who would be a better solution. On Monday night, you didn’t have time to reflect on anything before the full-time whistle had gone. And it was refreshing. You couldn’t look away. Something might happen.
Because when Orsolini came on for Barella at 4-0 up, Italy made sure the locomotive steamrolled an obviously frustrated visitor. After Zaniolo’s second for the night and Alessio Romagnoli’s second ever for Italy, Orsolini was tripped to give Jorginho a goal from the penalty spot. Then, two minutes later, he combined with Chiesa to send them 8-0 up. Armenia got a consolation goal from long distance, when Edgar Babayan beat Meret only two minutes after the Napoli goalkeeper had come on for his debut, but Orsolini and Chiesa quickly made sure they would forget about it, when they combined for another goal in the 81st minute.
Seeing Zaniolo, Sandro Tonali, Chiesa, Orsolini and Barella put in such mature performances also increased the regrets over Italy’s European Under-21 Championship flop. The players were ready just a few months ago, they simply needed a good coach.
Performances like this are very rare and it goes to show that this Italy team are ready to keep us locked in front of the TV screens whenever the Azzurri are going to play. Who would want to miss out on another great show, not me! I’ll be watching.