(Reuters) – Italy coach Roberto Mancini encouraged his players to be fearless when pulling on the national team shirt ahead of a crucial Euro 2020 qualifying double-header against Greece and Bosnia.
The Azzurri won their opening two qualifiers against Finland and Liechtenstein in March to go top of Group J on six points.
Yet Mancini’s side are likely to face much sterner tests with a trip to Athens on Saturday before the visit of Bosnia next Tuesday, with both sides breathing down Italy’s neck after taking four points from their opening two games.
“We can show that our growth is continuing, we want to go out on the pitch to win,” Mancini said at Friday’s news conference.
“The mentality of the players has been good from the first day, we can’t go out to draw or with fear of losing.
“We are the Italian national team, even if we’re coming off a very difficult period.
“These will be our two most difficult matches, but we want to keep going on our path, playing well and winning.
“Greece have changed the quality of their game on a technical level in the last few months. They’ve changed several things, when one cycle ends you need a bit of time to renew it. It’s a bit like us.”
Mancini is leading Italy through their first qualifying campaign since their failed bid to reach the 2018 World Cup.
Under Gian Piero Ventura, the Italians fell to a 1-0 aggregate defeat to Sweden at the playoff stage, marking their first failure to reach the competition in 60 years.
Mancini, who succeeded Ventura in May 2018, believes that his players can use the memory of that World Cup disappointment to help them in their bid to book a place at next year’s cross-continental European Championship finals.
“It hadn’t happened for the last 60 years, it was a regret for everyone,” Mancini said.
“We must ensure that it never happens again, Italy must take part in the European Championships and the World Cup. For us it’s an extra motivation.”
(Reporting by Alasdair Mackenzie; Editing by Toby Davis)