By Brian Homewood
(Reuters) – In little more than one year in charge, coach Roberto Mancini has restored hope and brought renewed enthusiasm to an Italy side which was discredited by their astonishing failure to qualify for last year’s World Cup.
Their 2-1 away win to a tough Finnish side on Sunday, albeit achieved with a dubious penalty converted by Jorginho, maintained their 100% record in Euro 2020 qualifying after six games and extended their winning run to seven games in a row.
Just as important was the style of their win — although the penalty was fortuitous, Italy took the game to their opponents, as has become usual under Mancini, and created enough clear-cut chances to have won more comfortably.
“There is great enthusiasm around the national team,” said former Italy coach and forward Roberto Donadoni. “I enjoy watching the lads play with passion, determination and a group spirit.
“There are lots of lads who are developing well and acquiring the right mentality — one which gives the feeling that they don’t fear the opponents, even playing away from home.”
As he promised at the outset last year, former Manchester City and Inter Milan coach Mancini has not been afraid to throw young players into the mix and their starting line-up on Sunday had an average age of 25.
Perhaps more impressively, he has had the courage to bring in more experienced Serie A players who had previously been overlooked at international level.
On Sunday, defender Francesco Acerbi made his fourth appearance at the age of 31, while Armando Izzo, 27, won his second cap. The squad also included Vincenzo Grifo, 26 and with one cap, Kevin Lasagna, 27 and with four caps, and Danilo D’Ambrosio who, at 31, has won two caps.
Despite the absence of the suspended Marco Verratti, the midfield trio of Jorginho, Stefano Sensi and Nicolo Barella produced some flowing football and always looked capable of creating openings.
Sensi in particular had an impressive game, despite giving away the penalty for Finland’s equaliser, and the 24-year-old’s energy, excellent distribution and long-range shooting suggested he could become a leader of the team in the future.
“Roberto Mancini deserves a lot of credit for bringing in precise ideas which he’s helped us to put into practice over the last few months,” said captain Leonardo Bonucci, the team’s most experienced player with 91 caps.
“It’s a style which creates enthusiasm which is shared by the players on the pitch. Of course, we can get caught on the break when we attack so much, but we enjoy it, which is the most important thing,” added the central defender.
“We clearly lack the experience which you get from playing in important matches at club level, but we are on the right track. With effort and sacrifice, this Italy team can go a long way.”
(Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Christian Radnedge)