Mancini spoilt for choice as Italy head to Eu­ros

Pretoria News - - SPORT - |

ONLY 14 months ago Ital­ians were won­der­ing where na­tional coach Roberto Mancini was go­ing to find enough qual­ity play­ers to pro­duce a team wor­thy of the coun­try’s his­tory.

Their big­gest names were well into their 30s while the most promis­ing young­sters were stuck in the re­serves at Serie A clubs. “The use of Ital­ians has never been so low,” he said at the time.

Now Mancini’s big­gest headache is who he will leave out of the 23-man squad that will head for Euro 2020 in June.

Few coaches have re­built a team as quickly and as im­pres­sively as Mancini, who took over in May last year with Italy in dis­ar­ray af­ter their fail­ing to qual­ify for the 2018 World Cup.

Af­ter los­ing 1-0 to Por­tu­gal in Septem­ber last year, their fourth com­pet­i­tive match with­out a win, there was a feel­ing not even Mancini could res­cue them. “Italy al­ways go­ing down­wards,” said Gazzetta dello Sport.

Yet Italy stormed through their Euro qual­i­fy­ing group with a per­fect record, cul­mi­nat­ing in Mon­day’s 9-1 de­mo­li­tion of Ar­me­nia, and are on a record-break­ing run of 11 suc­ces­sive wins.

The 54-year-old coach has shown re­mark­able faith in young play­ers and a tal­ent for in­ject­ing con­fi­dence and help­ing them to per­form to the best of their abil­ity. Over 19 matches he has se­lected 65 play­ers and given in­ter­na­tional de­buts to 24.

Among those was Ni­colo Zan­iolo, who was called up last year be­fore he had even made his Serie A de­but.

Zan­iolo, who scored his first two

Italy goals against Ar­me­nia, is now re­garded as one of the most promis­ing play­ers Italy has pro­duced in re­cent years. More sur­pris­ing is that Mancini has given chances to late de­vel­op­ers such as for­ward Kevin Lasagna and de­fender Ar­mando Izzo, who made their Italy de­buts at 26 and 27.

Last month Mancini also called up 26-year-old Gio­vanni Di Lorenzo, who only reached Serie A last sea­son af­ter spells with Em­poli in Serie B and Mat­era in the third tier of Ital­ian soccer.

“Some­thing spe­cial has hap­pened. We have won all the games with a squad that peo­ple did not have much faith in,” Mancini said. “I think the public have taken to them be­cause they are young lads, from so many dif­fer­ent teams. They’ve played well and kept a high stan­dard.”

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