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.