In three years, Italy has gone from failing to qualify for the World Cup to an ideal qualifying marketing campaign for the European Championship.
It’s a change that got here before anticipated beneath coach Roberto Mancini, who has discovered the correct mix of youthful gamers and veterans to create optimism round a staff that had misplaced all of its confidence.
“There are groups which can be a step above us however we don’t really feel inferior to anybody and we wish to shock,” veteran defender Leonardo Bonucci mentioned.
At the moment on a 26-match unbeaten run — the second longest streak within the staff’s historical past, trailing solely a 30-match stretch from 1935-39 beneath Vittorio Pozzo — Italy has the glory of internet hosting the match’s opening match towards Turkey on June 11 in Rome.
Switzerland and Wales are additionally in Group A with the Azzurri.
WHO TO WATCH
Whereas alternating middle forwards Ciro Motionless and Andrea Belotti are speculated to care for the scoring, Italy’s power is its massive group of diminutive however extremely efficient wingers and midfielders.
Left winger Lorenzo Insigne is taken into account Italy’s most proficient participant and his lack of use in the course of the failed qualifying marketing campaign for the 2018 World Cup — particularly when he was benched in the course of the playoff loss to Sweden — irked followers to no finish. On the opposite wing there’s Federico Chiesa, the son of former Italy striker Enrico Chiesa, whereas Federico Bernardeschi stays one other sturdy possibility in assault.
Then in midfield there are limitless choices with Nicolò Barella, Jorginho, Manuel Locatelli, Lorenzo Pellegrini and Matteo Pessina — plus Marco Verratti and Stefano Sensi, accidents allowing. Insigne, Verratti, Sensi, Barella and Chiesa all stand 5-foot-9 (1.75 meters) or beneath.
Captain Giorgio Chiellini and Bonucci are the one members of the staff with greater than 100 appearances. No different gamers known as up have even made 50 appearances.
What’s extra is that each Chiellini and Bonucci stay starters in protection, though they now have dependable backups in most cancers survivor Francesco Acerbi, Gianluca Mancini and Alessandro Bastoni — who’ve established themselves at Lazio, Roma and Inter, respectively.
File-setting goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon retired from worldwide soccer after the failed World Cup qualification. He is been changed by 22-year-old Gianluigi Donnarumma.
Italy was laborious hit by the coronavirus. Mancini needed to coach video games remotely in November when he was beneath quarantine after testing optimistic for COVID-19, despite the fact that he was asymptomatic.
Newly employed assistant Daniele De Rossi was hospitalized for greater than a month with pneumonia signs after he was considered one of 4 workers members who contracted the virus throughout World Cup qualifying matches in March.
A number of gamers have additionally struggled with COVID-19, notably Verratti, who examined optimistic in each January and April. Verratti then injured his proper knee in early Might however staff physicians imagine he can return in the course of the match.
Moreover Buffon, the largest title lacking is that of Mario Balotelli.
Now 30, the striker who led Italy to the Euro 2012 remaining performs for Monza in Serie B after a collection of on- and off-the-field issues. After years away from the nationwide staff, Balotelli was known as up when Mancini was first employed in 2018 however then misplaced his method once more.
“I hoped that he would really feel pleasure in exhibiting that he may return to being the participant that he confirmed he could be,” Mancini mentioned. “Sadly, although, Mario didn’t do a lot to return to his high degree. And that is still an enormous disappointment.”
One other key participant lacking is 21-year-old midfielder Nicolò Zaniolo, who tore ligaments in each knees in separate accidents final yr and remains to be recovering.
CHANCES OF ADVANCING
A four-time World Cup champion, Italy’s solely European Championship title got here in 1968. Whereas the Azzurri will not be one of many high favorites this time, they’re anticipated to make a run into the knockout rounds.
Mancini, although, believes Italy can purpose for the title, which would supply aid for one of many international locations hardest hit by the pandemic.
“We wish to present a cause for the whole nation to have fun,” Mancini mentioned, “particularly contemplating what we’ve been via during the last yr and a half.”