Monday, January 17

How Mancini’s quest for joy rebuilt Italy from the rubble of 2018 | Italy

Roberto Mancini has achieved the goal set at the start of Euro 2020. In an open letter on the eve of the tournament, the Italy coach promised that his team would take advantage of this opportunity with the illusion of children on the playground, offering their country “moments of joy that, for a second, will make us forget the year we have just passed.”

That had been delivered at the end of the rampage against Turkey. Italy won 3-0, but more than that, they attacked with relentless commitment, advancing to the end. Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne celebrated their goals with an oath of honor to the cult football movie The Coach in the Ball.

A nation fell in love with its soccer team again. That alone was a great achievement. Many fans had completely abandoned the Azzurri after they failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

Mancini assumed command in the wake of that disaster. Television audience of their first matches in charge It was down in more than 11% of the period equivalent to his predecessor, Giampiero Ventura, and more than 22% of when Antonio Conte was at the helm. He accepted the moment as an opportunity to take risks, telling his players that “you learn by making mistakes.”

However, there is a time to learn and a time to show the world what you know. Before the round of 16 match against Austria, Mancini hit a different note. “Tomorrow is the first game in which we cannot make mistakes,” he said. “You have to win. You can’t do anything else.”

Despite all his desire to spread joy, Mancini has always known that, in sport, the greatest pleasure is to win. He didn’t say so in his letter to fans, but his own eyes were always on the award. Italy are undefeated in 33 games, their longest streak, but when they equaled the previous record of 30, set nearly a century ago under Vittorio Pozzo, Mancini greeted the achievement with a shrug.

“It’s good to match a legend,” he said. “But Pozzo won trophies, which are more important.”

The more Italy has progressed in this tournament, the more sincerely they have shared their ambition. When asked before the Italy versus Spain semi-final which aspects of the match fascinated him the most, Mancini replied: “What intrigues me is the idea of ​​going to the final.” On Friday, he took the next step, telling the UEFA website: “Reaching the final is a good achievement. But it’s still not enough. “

Roberto Mancini celebrates after the penalty shootout victory over Spain in the semifinal.
Roberto Mancini celebrates after the penalty shootout victory over Spain in the semifinal. Photograph: Carl Recine / EPA

It’s easy to see how Italy’s undefeated streak could even become a drag at a time like this. The transformation Mancini has produced is extraordinary, bringing the Azzurri back from their lowest low in 60 years and putting them on a better course almost immediately. They have won 27 of those 33 games. Italy have outscored their opponents by 86 goals to 10.

However, Mancini’s own words suggest that such numbers will seem hollow to you if they don’t come with a trophy attached. When asked by his UEFA interviewer if he expected to be successful so quickly, he replied: “We are not successful yet. It will be a success only if we win on Sunday. We expected to do a great job and we have achieved that. But in the end, what matters is winning ”.

This will be Italy’s fourth appearance in a European Championship final, but they have only triumphed once, as hosts of the tournament, in 1968. Despite winning a couple of World Cups since then, continental success has caught up with them. I escaped.

There was a heartbreaking defeat at Euro 2000, where Italy led France until the fourth minute of second-half injury time before Sylvain Wiltord tied and David Trezeguet took the golden goal. In 2012, he was beaten 4-0 by Spain.

It seems unlikely that this last scenario will be repeated. That 2012 team was on fire after a prodigious effort in the semi-final victory over Germany. Giorgio Chiellini had a calf injury that forced him to leave in the 21st minute and Italy played the final half hour with 10 men who ran out of substitutions to replace players whose bodies were betraying them.

They have lost a crucial player to injury in this tournament, Leonardo Spinazzola tore his Achilles tendon in the quarter-final victory over Belgium. The left-back missed a lot against Spain, both because of his overlapping runs with Lorenzo Insigne in attack and because of the speed of recovery that helped mask the lack of rhythm in other parts of the defense.

Italy’s hope is that Emerson Palmieri, Spinazzola’s replacement, will look more comfortable with a game under his belt, but also that they can dictate the game in a way that they couldn’t against Spain. The greatest strength of this Italian team lies in the midfield trio of Jorginho, Marco Verratti and Nicolò Barella, the first two operating as dual registers directing the play as Barella looks for opportunities to break the lines.

Leonardo Spinazzola broke his Achilles tendon in the quarterfinals against Belgium
Leonardo Spinazzola was one of Italy’s standout players before breaking an Achilles tendon in the quarterfinals against Belgium. Photograph: Andreas Gebert / AP

In the semifinal they were passed, Luis Enrique’s decision to place Dani Olmo as a false nine allowed Spain to squeeze the center of the field from all directions. However, for the remainder of this tournament, Italy has dominated possession. It will be his intention to do it again at Wembley.

The stadium means something more to Mancini, for whom it will always be the place where he lost a European Cup final, playing for Sampdoria against Barcelona in 1992. He returned there to win two games in this tournament together with his former teammates Luca Vialli. and Attilio. Lombardo, part of his staff from Italy, has felt like a form of catharsis.

Still, they have yet to win a final at Wembley. And Mancini knows that on Sunday the atmosphere will be different from the one that received them on the two previous visits, when Italian fans were the majority.

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“England will have almost the entire stadium behind them,” he said on Friday. “They are clearly going to have great support. But taking into account that, outside of the last matches of the Eurocup, we had a year and a half without fans, having it like that is also good. I think it is beautiful to have a lot of fans in the stadium ”.

He will tell his players to approach the game like everyone else – with all the joy he promised in that letter before the tournament started. “You can’t play a football game on your nerves,” Mancini said. “You have to play with the right pressure, really trying to get out there and have fun. That is the only way to win a final. “

And winning is the only thing that counts.

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