Practically perfect Italy progress | Football Italia
They might have disguised themselves in green, but it did not leave us feeling blue. From one of the lowest points in the history of the Italian national team, we really could not have asked for more.
A 100% Euro 2020 qualification record – matched only by Belgium – and a place secured with three games to spare would have seemed almost unimaginable two years ago. Roberto Mancini has delivered on his promises with the same style he used to produce with the Sampdoria Number 10 on his back.
This was one of the lower key victories of this Group J domination. Greece had reacted to a miserable campaign by covering up like a boxer fearing the knockout blow at any moment. Once a Jorginho penalty had pierced their stubborn defences, however, they never looked like getting back to their feet. It was party time in the Stadio Olimpico – which Azzurri fans will hope is a taste of things to come next summer.
While the supporters celebrate, of course, nobody in the Italy ranks will be quaffing too much Prosecco over these performances. A section comprising Finland, Armenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Liechtenstein – along with the struggling Greeks – was hardly the group of death. Nonetheless, who would have fancied seven wins out of seven under Giampiero Ventura? Possibly not even his closest friends.
The victory over John van’t Schip’s side – apart from renewing memories in older viewers of times when he locked horns with Mancini in the Derby della Lanterna – did show some areas which will need to be worked on. Italy enjoyed huge possession, but struggled to break down opponents of only modest quality. They will need to bring more precision and pace to their play when they come up against better sides.
Indeed, it was a somewhat fortuitous Federico swap – Bernardeschi for the limping Chiesa – that helped to pep them up. Cutting in onto his left foot, the Juventus man seemed to enjoy the rare feeling of grass beneath his boots on a match day and delivered a deflected goal and some decent enterprise. It would be to his and Club Italia’s benefit if he spent a little less time familiarising himself with the substitutes’ benches of Serie A in the weeks and months to come.
The midfield ticked along nicely enough on the Marco Verratti-Jorginho axis and the Brazilian born star’s little skipping spot-kick worked a treat.
It was a night to be patient, in truth, and the Azzurri were clinical enough in the end. Nobody really shone, but their possession stats were more one-sided than a basketball match between Lorenzo Insigne and Gigio Donnarumma. This was more about getting the job done than any glorious football.
Yes, it was a worry that Ciro Immobile saw the ball so little and the striking role remains a bit of a headache. The return to form of Andrea Belotti has at least given another option while we await to see if home comforts in Brescia can make Mario Balotelli a serious contender for a role. However, it would be harsh on the architects of this qualification if they were to be discarded in order to allow for his return – unless his form is so outstanding it cannot be ignored.
This is a good group of players who have repaired a reputation which looked like it might have been permanently damaged back in November 2017, but there is still plenty of work to do. This run of victories has been a perfect tonic, but it is a little early to say the patient is completely cured.
Italy expects its national team to be contenders at every major tournament and that will be the next big test for Mancio’s troops. They have at least shown themselves able to cope with Europe’s middle tier sides – something which was not a given for a while. The next step is to get back to battling with the very best on the continent as equals – no matter what colour of strip they might have to wear.