Italy emerge as serious Euro contenders after more magic in Rome

euro 2021

Two 3-0 wins have made Italy the first team in the knock-out stages at Euro 2020, and the way they are playing has made Roberto Mancini’s overhauled team a major title contender.

Italy coach Roberto Mancini must strike a delicate balance between instilling belief and keeping expectations at a tolerable level after another magical night in Rome.

Italy’s second 3-0 victory in as many Euro 2020 games, this time against Switzerland, has propelled Mancini’s team even more into the spotlight reserved for the big teams.

British paper The Guardian on Thursday spoke of “a display of collective strength that should put the rest of the field on notice” as it named Italy “the revelation of the tournament so far.”

In Germany, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung said the opening 3-0 over Turkey last week was “no short-lived hype” but that “this team – in the traditional blue shirt but reinvented – is among the top contenders at the Euros in 2021.”

A brace from Manuel Locatelli and a second tournament goal from Ciro Immobile extended the Azzurri’s unbeaten run to 29 games and they have not let in a goal in 10 matches.

The first strike was pure masterclass, with Locatelli volleying the ball to Domenico Berardi on the right wing from the centre circle, and running all the way to the goalmouth where he got the ball back to poke home.

“They did a brilliant job. We want to get as many people forward as possible. That means taking risks but it was an incredible goal,” Mancini said in admiration.

“You are beautiful,” Gazzetta dello Sport told the team in a screaming front-page headline, and Corriere dello Sport delighted in “another magical night.”

The former Italy forward Mancini took the coaching job in 2018 after the Azzurri shockingly failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in six decades.

His overhaul has brought in attacking football and players like the 23-year-old Locatelli and the 26-year-old Berardi, both from Sassuolo; but there is also vast experiernce from the likes of Immobile or veteran defenders Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini.

Berardi hailed “a great group” and Locatelli spoke of “a wonderful group” of players.

The unbeaten streak is improssive but Mancini is under no illusion that a lot of work awaits the team, and that defeat can follow success very quickly.

Five years ago a tactical masterclass saw Italy beat then two-time reigning champions Spain at Euro 2016, only to go out in the next game against Germany, for the first time ever at a big event.

Italy are in the last 16 again, and as group winners if they don’t lose on Sunday against Wales.

But this is where it gets serious, Mancini says. He shrugged off the contender role but also wouldn’t rule out great things from a team that is still developing and learning.

“There are France, Portugal, Belgium, one of them are world champions, the others European champions and the others ranking leaders,” Mancini said.

“They are ahead in their development but anything can happen, you shouldn’t take anything for granted.

“There is room for improvement. Some of the guys are young and don’t even play European football on club level.”

Swiss coach Vladimir Petrovic meanwhile has no doubts about Italy, after getting a first-hand experience.

“They have everything it takes to make the semi-finals. And then it comes down to the performance on the day,” Petrovic said.

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