A friendly international game in the middle of a global pandemic which is getting worse and worse everywhere around Europe is not exactly ideal. Italy-Estonia, just like any other friendly around the Old Continent, was a game nobody wanted to play.
In all honesty, many would also avoid playing the Nations League, as clubs involved in European competitions are due to play a game every three days with growing injuries and cases of Covid that, even if asymptomatic in the main, prevent their stars from playing and training for at least two weeks, on average.
For Italy, the Artemio Franchi clash against Estonia was even pretty difficult to organise. Roberto Mancini tested positive for Covid only a few days before the beginning of the ritiro. Mancio had called up 41 players, but only 19 showed up for the first day of training.
Why? Because players of Sassuolo, Inter, Lazio, Roma and Fiorentina had been prevented from traveling by local health authorities after cases of Covid emerged in their teams. Inter’s Alessandro Bastoni and Roberto Gagliardini were given the all-clear as they had recovered from Covid last month and, presumably, they have antibodies that make it impossible for them to contract the virus again, at least for the next few weeks. The same is true of Genoa’s Luca Pellegrini. Both he and Bastoni made their debut tonight.
Sassuolo players (Gianmarco Ferrari, Manuel Locatelli and Domenico Berardi) arrived on Tuesday after the end of a 10-day isolation period that followed the positive swab test of Neroverdi star Filip Djuricic.
Fiorentina’s Jack Bonaventura and Gaetano Castrovilli, who train every day right in front of the Artemio Franchi, were prevented from joining the national team until the end of their self-isolation period, while Roma players (Gianluca Mancini, Bryan Cristante, Lorenzo Pellegrini and Leonardo Spinazzola) are not going to arrive at Coverciano at all, as the club have registered six cases of Covid in the last week, including Pellegrini himself.
Quite a mess, overall.
Italy’s assistant manager Alberico Evani managed to somehow have 23 players available, while Gianluca Vialli was in direct contact with Mancini through a satellite phone on the bench.
Matteo Pessina, Pellegri and Davide Calabria made their Azzurri senior debuts coming off the bench in the second half and, talking about first times, Vincenzo Grifo scored his first-ever Italy goal at a senior level with a scorcher after 14 minutes.
During the first half Leonardo Bonucci was keeping himself busy on the sidelines. The Juventus defender was very loud and probably gave more guidance and instructions to his teammates that Evani did. “Defend”, “Attack”, “Stay wider”, “Refereeeee” and all these sorts of things that make one wonder if he will be the next Juventus player to begin a coaching career.
However, after about 20 minutes, he shouted this to his fellow Juventus teammate Federico Bernardeschi: “Take on the defender, take on the defender, be rough.” Italy’s No.10 did follow Bonucci’s advice, scoring the second for the Azzurri a few minutes later.
Italy, as predictable, dominated the whole game with Grifo completing his brace from the spot in the second half. Riccardo Orsolini imitated him with five minutes left to be played, scoring his second goal in two senior appearances with the Azzurri.
An important goal for the latter, who has had a tough start to the season with Bologna, just like Bernardeschi at Juventus.
For them two as well as for Grifo and the five debutants, tonight’s game was everything but useless, although many fans won’t agree with it. Thanks to the win against Estonia, the Azzurri have also extended their unbeaten streak to 20 games and need two draws or one win in the next two games against Poland and Bosnia and Herzegovina to be among the top seeds for the 2022 World Cup draw.
As for clubs, they will be happy none of their players picked up an injury during the game.