EURO 2020: Italy transformed after the failure of the World Cup

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FILE – In this file photo from Sunday 11 October 2020, Italy’s Andrea Belotti, right, attempts a shot on goal alongside Poland’s Tomasz Kedziora during the UEFA Nations League soccer match between Poland and the ‘Italy at Energa Stadium in Gdansk, Poland. (AP Photo / Czarek Sokolowski, file)

AP

In three years, Italy has gone from a failure to qualify for the World Cup to a perfect qualifying campaign for the European Championship.

It’s a transformation that came earlier than expected under the leadership of coach Roberto Mancini, who found the right mix of young players and veterans to create optimism around a team that had lost all of its confidence. .

“There are teams that are a cut above us, but we don’t feel inferior to anyone and we want to surprise,” said veteran defender Leonardo Bonucci.

Currently in a 26-game unbeaten streak – the second longest streak in the team’s history, barely 30 games from 1935 to 1939 under Vittorio Pozzo – Italy has the honor of hosting the match. opening of the tournament against Turkey on June 11 in Rome. .

Switzerland and Wales are also in Group A with the Azzurri.

WHO TO MONITOR

While alternate center forwards Ciro Immobile and Andrea Belotti are supposed to take care of the score, Italy’s strength lies in their large group of tiny but very effective winger and midfielders.

Left winger Lorenzo Insigne is considered Italy’s most talented player and his lack of use in the failed 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign – especially when he was on the bench in the loss in the playoffs against Sweden – angered endless fans.

On the other side is Federico Chiesa, the son of former Italian striker Enrico Chiesa, while Federico Bernardeschi remains another strong option in attack.

Then in midfield there are endless options with Nicolò Barella, Jorginho, Manuel Locatelli, Lorenzo Pellegrini and Matteo Pessina – plus Marco Verratti and Stefano Sensi, if injuries allow it.

Insignia, Verratti, Sensi, Barella, and Chiesa are all five feet tall or less.

OLD GUARD

Captain Giorgio Chiellini and Bonucci are the only members of the squad with more than 100 appearances.

No other called-up player has even made 50 appearances.

Additionally, Chiellini and Bonucci remain starters in defense, although they now have reliable back-ups in cancer survivors Francesco Acerbi, Gianluca Mancini and Alessandro Bastoni – who have established themselves at Lazio, Roma and Italy respectively. ‘Inter.

Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon retired from international football after failing to qualify for the World Cup. He was replaced by 22-year-old Gianluigi Donnarumma.

COVID CASE

Italy has been hit hard by the coronavirus.

Mancini had to coach matches from a distance in November while in quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19, even though he was asymptomatic.

Newly hired assistant Daniele De Rossi was hospitalized for more than a month with symptoms of pneumonia after being one of four staff members who contracted the virus during World Cup qualifying matches in March .

Several players have also struggled with COVID-19, including Verratti, who tested positive in January and April. Verratti then injured his right knee in early May, but team medics believe he can return during the tournament.

MISSING PLAYERS

Besides Buffon, the biggest name missing is that of Mario Balotelli.

Now 30, the striker who led Italy to the Euro 2012 final plays for Monza in Serie B after a series of problems on and off the pitch.

After years of absence from the national team, Balotelli was called up when Mancini was first hired in 2018, but again lost his way.

“I was hoping he would be proud to show that he could go back to being the player he showed he can be,” Mancini said. “Unfortunately, Mario didn’t do much to get back to his top level. And that remains a big disappointment.

Another missing key player is 21-year-old midfielder Nicolò Zaniolo, who torn ligaments in both knees in separate injuries last year and is still recovering.

CHANCES OF MOVING FORWARD

Four-time World Cup champions, Italy’s only European title came in 1968. Although the Azzurri aren’t one of the top favorites this time around, they should advance to the knockout stages.

Mancini, however, believes Italy can aim for the title, which would provide relief to one of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic.

“We want to give the entire nation a reason to celebrate,” Mancini said, “especially given what we’ve been through over the past year and a half.”

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More AP football: https://apnews.com/hub/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports




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