Thursday April 1 2021
Efficient Azzurri

Italy picked up their fifth 2-0 win in a row and Richard Hall sees the glass half full despite a not entirely convincing performance in Lithuania.

Italian papers were not dwelling on the fact that Italy could still improve. Instead, they focused on the fact that Italy had won three out of three in the International break and that Roberto Mancini equalled Marcelo Lippi’s 25-game unbeaten run with the Azzurri.

It was a torrid first half in Lithuania, yes, but Italy won again, keeping another clean sheet and remaining on top their World Cup Group. There is room for improvement, but it should not be underestimated where Mancini has brought the Azzurri.

It would not be Italy if there were no chastising of the national team. Social media has given the disgruntled fan a platform to voice their opinions, other than just in the coffee shop. The cold facts of the game against Lithuania were as follows.

Tomas Svedkauskas, the Lithuanian goalkeeper was man of the match, Stefano Sensi made a difference on his arrival on the pitch and was a difference-maker.

Ciro Immobile’s poor form continued despite scoring a late penalty and Italy found themselves pushed out wide by an intelligent home side and had no creative threat to unlock them. Despite all of this, Italy still won and over the three games, they proved much.

‘Apocalypse’. This was the heading in the Gazzetta Dello Sport on November 14th 2017. A stunned nation awoke to realise it was not a nightmare. For the first time in 60 years, Italy would not be at the World Cup Finals: 1958 was the last time the Azzurri had not qualified for the competition.

Ironically, that tournament was held in Sweden and it was the Swedes who had beaten them in 2017. Remember this well? It is hard for the nation not to as 14.8 million had tuned in to watch the game.

They witnessed Gigi Buffon’s tears and they were stunned as coach Gian Piero Ventura initially refused to resing. There had been dressing room chaos as Italian veterans had influenced tactics and the football was terrible. This was not long ago.

Roberto Mancini has been a revelation and he has put the Azzurri back on the International map in quick time. They look like one of Europe’s elite teams and they look flexible, intelligent, defensively sound, and have strength in depth.

The Azzurri qualified for the Euros and beat Holland to book their place in the Nations’ League Final Four. They have started their World Cup qualifiers by efficiently dispatching Northern Ireland, Bulgaria and Lithuania.

Friendlies against San Marino and the Czech Republic are to come before they enter the Euros and be confident of qualifying as their group has Switzerland, Wales, and Turkey.

There are no guarantees, but they certainly have the squad to do so.

Throughout the team, Italy have quality and their mix of experience and youth is a good one. The older heads like Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Ciro Immobile and others are complemented by the exceptional young talents like Nicolo Barella, Alessandro Bastoni and Matteo Pessina, to name a few.

It is true that mistakes will still be made and that certain games will highlight deficiencies, but this is key for Mancini to experiment and find these out before a major tournament.

Bastoni made mistakes against Lithuania, Immobile was not supplied and when he was poor. Italy certainly needed a creative option in that game, but it certainly is strong enough to make other teams at the Euros sit up and take note when you look at the first eleven.

Corriere Dello Sport summed it up nicely when they said this morning that “Italy only know how to win.” They agreed it was a poor first half, but they found a way to win, which is what matters.

Great national sides do that. They cannot all provide splendid football every time. To put this into context, take yourself back to 2017 and assess the feeling and how desperate you would be to see Italy as they are today.

The Azzurri are capable of competing to the latter stages in these Euros next summer and the start of the World Cup Qualifiers and the results they have managed to achieve will give them confidence. Italy may not always be attractive, but they are efficient with the potential of being brilliant.



Have your say...
I think the issue with Italy is while I agree with Mancini that this team needs to play more of an offensive style of football, the players are programed to be primarily defensive and at times the creativity becomes stale on this team. I also hate how they play around with the ball in their own box. This will backfire if they aren't careful.
on the 5th April, 2021 at 2:38am
Di Lorenzo

That's a right team + then u have Zaniolo, Florenzi, Pessina, Belotti, Sensi, Cragno + the rest to come in too! This Italy squad are more consistent than in the past, has experience, depth + young talent comin through! And a togetherness too. Yes, they need to be tested against the best sides but Mancini + the Samp bench ;) can put out a strong 11 + are instilling that winning mentality!
on the 4th April, 2021 at 6:04pm
Can we have an article on the top 4 race next? Feel like it’s going to be a great ending especially as Atalanta juve Milan Napoli still have games against each other. Love to hear predictions - mine are - 1. Inter 2 Atalanta 3. Napoli 4. Juve 5 Milan who should just be enough in front of Lazio to hold on.. this is pretty reflective of the top 4 strongest squads in Italy. Roma will continue their slide downwards.
on the 4th April, 2021 at 3:33am
Are people serious on this blog about kean he is as useless as he looks clumsy on the ball and indecisive. Balotelli was a flop cannot understand how people keep talking about him. He is selfish and one thing italy as a team are is unselfish. Looks at ronaldo and what he is doing to Juve. There are enty other options up front. Kean is out of his league.
on the 4th April, 2021 at 12:06am
@ make e pizza, have you actually watched an Italy game over the past 2.5 years?

You paint a very negative picture. They are STACKED at midfield... they have quality forwards.. players like Spinazola are real impact players, and the D should be fine. Behind the tow old men there are some quality young players there now and ready to take on the teak - Bastoni and Mancini will make a great combo.

The midfield is the most important position, and there Italy could make tow good teams.
on the 3rd April, 2021 at 11:52am
wish for ziolo to be in good shape as fast as possible & for cutrone to be recognized as a good player & for keane to be lucky enough play more games for more experience; as i believe and trust them mentioned players can do wonders with the national team and for all competitors to fear the azzurri. if you ask me; best midfield & offence to include which will get the results are: verratti, barella, ziolo & keane, cutrone, chiesa. that shall be strong, solid and powerful.
on the 3rd April, 2021 at 9:08am
it’s very clear results are impressive, run of 25 games without a loss. the national team is doing fine, and the Azzurri is in good shape. mancini is a good coach, and for consistency hopefully his contract will be for some time more, as it is very important to keep the faith on him & his path. there are a number of good players in the national team, however, there could be more to join as there are plenty of talented players, but the only thing missing “not enough playing time @ club level!
on the 3rd April, 2021 at 9:00am
The current squad is good. However there's a worry of not enough good prospects coming out of U-21. Maybe the league should have restrictions to having not less than 8 Italian players out of 25 and 5 in starting 11.

And the teams in Serie A should be 18 instead of 20. Every year the teams in 15-17 get away with very poor performances. Also 4 less league matches gives chance to do better in Europe and be fresh for national team as well.
on the 2nd April, 2021 at 8:04pm
People hating on Immobile for missing chances might want to consider what Italy might be like with someone like Kean or Cutrone (yes someone did suggest him!) up front. Italy have very few players at the very top level and thus are nothing like they were with Nesta, Cannavaro, Pirlo, Del Piero et al. Inexperienced midfielders, ageing defenders, strikers who haven't convinced. It doesn't just come down to Immobile missing chances, Insigne is hardly racking up the goals either!
on the 2nd April, 2021 at 7:26pm
I totally agree with you on the immobile comment, i honestly can't stand the fact he is even in the squad of let-alone starting! BUT mario is a step to far, sorry i mean 20 steps backwards.
I also think there is some truth in your comment about locatelli but i think the same can be said for most Italain youngster at any of Serie A top clubs. This is the problem that needs to be addressed if we are to ever become a power again.
BUT please no talk of Mario ever again.
on the 2nd April, 2021 at 5:54pm
Jez I couldn’t help myself, my dislike for Immobile has reached new heights. He is truly poor. Maldini’s heir don’t you think if locatelli had stayed, we would have ruined him as we seem to do with all our promising youngsters? Still waiting for the Milan based on Italian youth but won’t be losing sleep. Agree Italy have a good chance at euros but I’d have us as favourites with a decent goal scorer.
on the 2nd April, 2021 at 4:24pm
Been following The Azzuri since 94. Ventura is by far the worst coach. Currently, the problem is no reliable striker. Think Bo Bo Vieri was one of the best and consistent striker for Italy. Gone are the day when Inzaghi, Del Piero, Totti, Vieri are in the same team. After Vieri, Italy has no striker to rely on. I would say Toni, Balotelli and Pelle did well when they were on the team.
on the 2nd April, 2021 at 2:16pm
I've always tried to stay positive about the Italy team because I spent many a year feeling let down by the Azzurri. My old self would say Immobile's performance was shocking (it really was) but I'm hoping an early goal in the Euros may improve his confidence. Kean is a good option off the bench. I still believe we need to focus on our strengths and use the great midfielders we have astutely; I'd prefer a Christmas tree formation.If we cleverly combine youth and experience we have a good chance.
on the 2nd April, 2021 at 11:03am
Watching Locatelli gives me that familiar sense of pride and despair. It’s so great to see him perform so well because he’ll always be a Milanista. But so infuriating to know what we’ve given up. The worst thing is it was obvious he had this potential. Milan can still fix this by signing him instead of Tonali. We should resign Cutrone as well while we’re at it.
on the 2nd April, 2021 at 10:33am
Italy were excellent. Best performances I’ve seen in years. Hats off to Mancini who really is a very good manager despite my criticisms of him over the years. I’m pretty relaxed aboht the strikers: I think either Belotti or Immobile have a tournament in them, and also it’s worth remembering Italy won the World Cup with 10 different goalscorers. We play like this, we have a chance.
on the 2nd April, 2021 at 10:25am
I think Mancini deserves a chance at cb, if not at the Euros then certainly for the world cup next year. He reminds me of Manolas when he was good at Roma. He's fast and aggressive and should compliment Bastoni well who is a more technical, calmer and methodical type of player. The Euros might be a year too early but after another season, assuming they both carry on playing well then they are the two for me who should be first choice.
on the 2nd April, 2021 at 10:09am
@Adrian G
You were doing so well! Then you said Mario!
on the 1st April, 2021 at 10:11pm
I’d rather Mario in the squad over Immobile.
on the 1st April, 2021 at 8:57pm
I hate to say it but am praying immobile gets injured he’s either offside or missing sitters. Still unsure about defence, it seems really strange to still see Bonucci and Chiellini as starters. Acerbi, Toloi are worrying me. Bastoni didn’t fill me with huge confidence either, please don’t turn into Ranochia! It is a real shame that Romagnoli is always injured as out of form. Juve ruined Rugani he could have done a job. Fullbacks are ok but not of the standard we have grown accustomed to.
on the 1st April, 2021 at 8:52pm
Great win considering the team sheet and players missing. In Mancini’s system we have huge depth in 5 of the 6 forward positions. A midfield with Veratti, Jorginho, Locatelli, Barella etc surely one of the strongest in Europe and wide forwards in Chiesa, Berradi, Insigne creativity should not be an issue. Finishing however is another matter, we have not had a decent striker for a while. Immobile and Belotti are not good enough. Want to put faith in kean but still burnt from 2919 u21 debacle.
on the 1st April, 2021 at 8:44pm
In a way I’m glad Italy hasn’t won 4-0 or 5-0 and Ciro still has point to prove. Italy won’t be favorites going into Euros, but with the creative midfielders creating chances and more clinical finishing Italy can do very well. Expect Kean Berardi Chiesa all to play good supporting roles to the strikers.
on the 1st April, 2021 at 7:59pm
The glass is half full. Mancini has tried everyone, Kean was injured so dropped out of squad.
After 2017, this was the best possible path to get Italy back higher in world rankings and playing good football. Everyone that says that more is needed to beat France, Germany, Spain etc. over the past decade the problem has been unable to beat Slovakia, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Uruguay, Sweden. Now they’re beating Poland, Netherlands and other such teams. Atleast this way they’l reach knockout rounds
on the 1st April, 2021 at 7:54pm
We need to find a striker, we will not get far in the euros if we stick with Ciro & Gallo to lead our attack. why arent we giving opotunities to others like Griffo hopefully he will get his chance to prove him self in the friendleys.
on the 1st April, 2021 at 6:00pm
What about Moise Kean and/or Cutrone? Try them out, Mancio.. Kean hasn't;t been given enough of a chance..
on the 1st April, 2021 at 5:16pm
I haven't seen Italy dominate like this in the close to 50 years I've watched this sport...even those great years in the 80s and 90s...

Now before you young's say, "but all the wins over there past 2.5 years have been against inferior opponents...", I'll point out to you that Italy would often have great difficulty with the "minnows"

Mancio needs a lot of praise...
on the 1st April, 2021 at 5:10pm
Ste I do agree and it’s nice that everyone seems to have been chipping in with goals over the 3 years all that worry’s me is the chances fall to him and he keeps missing he might only get one or two in the main games.
Luca Toni scored loads of big goals if I remember I remember him destroying Holland and Germany in the run up to the World Cup. When has immobile ever done that
on the 1st April, 2021 at 4:08pm

So much truth in what you say, i've noticed it myself. To me he's clearly not comfortable with the ball at his feet but he knows that modern GKs are expected to be so he over compensates and tries to fool people into thinking he's good with his feet by acting all casual in possession. It's actually infuriating and the defenders who end up receiving the pass under pressure have to try and deal with it as best they can.
on the 1st April, 2021 at 3:26pm
For everybody slating Ciro, we won in 2006 with Matrix Materrazi and Luca Toni leading the way with 2 goals a piece. Toni's 16 in 47 and Gila's 19 in 57 are no too far off from Ciro's record. We won that tournament by not conceding a single goal from open play other than a fortuitous Zaccardo own goal off a free kick and a dodgy penalty award. This is Italy.
on the 1st April, 2021 at 3:18pm
Honestly, I have zero issue if he decides to not sign with Milan. He's a good keeper but I think he's highly overrated.
on the 1st April, 2021 at 1:59pm
For the love I have no idea why Pioli and Mancini seem to be completely fine with Donnarumma constantly being so lax on the ball and either waiting for the attacking forward to get so close that he nearly or does steal, or him literally just giving the ball to the attacking forward or him giving a poor ball to one of his D men and putting them under extreme pressure. He's been doing this at Milan for years and apparently everyone's ok with it. He's caused so many goals against because of this
on the 1st April, 2021 at 1:58pm

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