Italian football went through a soul-searching period after missing out on the 2018 World Cup and anything other than a strong performance will be looked down on this summer as they return to the big time at Euro 2020.
The Azzurri qualified with a perfect 10 wins from as many Group J outings and having also reached October’s Nations League Finals, look to be trending in the right direction.
Azzurri Back in the Big Time
An unfortunate last eight penalty shootout defeat to Germany at Euro 2016 suggested Italy’s ageing squad still had plenty of life left but they were uninspired in missing out on Russia.
Gian Piero Ventura’s position was quickly deemed untenable and after an interim spell under Luigi Di Biagio, Roberto Mancini rode in to save the day in May 2018.
The 56-year-old has overseen a change in the squad’s makeup that presents a nice blend of youth and experience and his influence has clearly made a difference.
That said, Italy’s record at the Euros is not exactly special for a country that has won the World Cup four times.
The Azzurri may have won on their tournament debut in 1968 but that was as hosts and against just three other teams. Despite being runners-up in 2000 and 2012, they have otherwise failed to make it past the quarters since the tournament’s expansion to 16 teams for Euro 96.
A Kind Draw for Italy
They could go deep this summer though and have been handed a decent draw in Group A, with the added boost that they play all three pool fixtures in Rome.
Turkey are the first visitors to the Stadio Olimpico in the tournament’s opening game on June 11. An opening win against the unpredictable Crescent Stars is
4/9 and would set Italy up nicely to take on Switzerland and Wales.
Young Guns Can Inspire Azzurri
Despite being a flamboyant playmaker during his younger days, a trait that often saw him at odds with the Italian footballing hierarchy, Mancini is an old school pragmatist as a coach, often prioritising defence over attack.
A solid 4-3-3 seems to be his preferred formation with a spine of Gianluigi Donnarumma, Alessio Romagnoli, Nicolo Barella and Andrea Belotti looking strong.
Belotti netted four times in qualifying and despite Torino’s troubles, has still managed nine Serie A goals.
Donnarumma and Romagnoli are playing leading roles as AC Milan eye a first Scudetto for 11 years, while Barella has been sensational for Inter and is now an undisputed starter.
With Leonardo Bonucci, Jorginho and Lorenzo Insigne sticking around to add top-level experience, there is a nice mix but the key man could be Juventus star Federico Chiesa.
The son of Enrico, who was part of the Italy squad at Euro 96, the 23-year-old can play wide, through the middle or off the front, and has even cameoed at wing-back.
Chiesa has skill and pace to burn but could do with adding more goals, having netted just once in 21 caps.
However, his versatility and tactical nous personify the Azzurri and they might not be too far away come the business end of the competition, with
12/1 in the outright market looking extremely generous.
*All odds correct at time of writing