Roberto Mancini’s Italy could transform international football by winning Euro 2020 with an attacking match | Football news

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When Gareth Southgate was told his full-backs were playing too defensively, it was telling that he quickly took France’s lead. The 2018 World Cup winners are clearly the role model of the English manager and that’s understandable.

Southgate is a student of the game, more pragmatic than philosopher, and he has observed what works. Didier Deschamps was criticized for having accompanied Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez to Russia but no one on the Champs-Elysées was disturbed after the final.

This has been the lesson of international football for some time. Spain’s top six to win the 2010 World Cup final included five of the same players who would start the Champions League final for Barcelona against Manchester United the following year.

The only difference was that with Vicente Del Bosque unable to call on Lionel Messi, he instead made Xabi Alonso sit in front of the defense. All four knockout matches were won by the same score of 1-0. Often sterile but always under control.

The message: this is how you win.

It is not only the history that is written by the winners, but also the future. With that in mind, fans of the international game maybe should be cheering on Italy now. Roberto Mancini has shown that the possibility of a broader approach remains. There is another way.

Italy are the only Euro 2020 team to have won all three of their group matches without conceding a goal, but they have been anything but conservative. They have the best goal difference, had the most shots and attempted the most deep passes in the tournament.

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Italy are on a 30-game unbeaten streak ahead of their game against Austria

From the opening night when Andrea Bocelli sang Nessun Dorma at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, they seem to have had the most fun. This is the first time the country has hosted a grand final since Italia ’90 and the players are reveling in it. The coach too.

Mancini’s arc of redemption is alluring. His playing career was unfinished with the Azzurri, never coming off the bench at that World Cup in 1990. He’s making up for it now and anyone suggesting this is an overreaction to three wins should look for further.

It is now 11 consecutive victories for Italy, in which they have scored 32 unanswered times. The unbeaten streak has been extended to 30 for the round of 16 against Austria. Bigger tests are coming but the momentum is with Mancini’s men.

He was helped by lower expectations. Italy haven’t even qualified for the World Cup in 2018 and haven’t reached the round of 16 since winning 15 years ago. Freed a little from the weight of history, the time had come to embrace a new team.

Manuel Locatelli made 36 appearances for Sassuolo last season
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Manuel Locatelli has been a key figure at the heart of the Italian midfielder

In doing so, a familiar swagger returned, a sense of optimism embodied by Manuel Locatelli and Domenico Berardi’s duo Sassuolo. The enthusiastic run of Leonardo Spinazzola, tasked with a left-back marauder role, was a feature.

That the 28-year-old Roma man has become a star owes as much to the system as to the player’s individual gifts. It reflects Mancini’s work, which is also evident in midfield rotations, sophisticated attacking moves and game changes.

Leonardo Spinazzola played an unusually attacking role for Italy from left-back at Euro 2020
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Leonardo Spinazzola had an unusually attacking role from left-back

Italian football belies the idea that the lack of ambition of others is a necessity due to the lack of time international coaches have to work with their players. There is another possibility: that it reflects the limitations of these coaches.

Compare the credentials. Mancini’s stock may have dwindled after stints at Galatasaray and Zenit St. Petersburg on either side of his second stint with Inter. But he still won more major league titles than the 23 other Euro 2020 coaches combined.

Opinion has prevailed that international football is a different animal. It’s a role that requires diplomacy. A world where knowledge of tournament logistics is seen as almost as important as the tactical acumen an elite coach can bring.

Mancini’s abrasive nature may have made him unsuitable for a job that is widely seen as needing a more optimistic approach. But the word is that he has mellowed and the result is that Italy are left with a manager who has brought style on and off the pitch.

Could its success change the mindset? It will depend on what happens next. Italy could become yet another statistic. The history of this tournament is littered with examples of teams that burned brilliantly but briefly, their legacy being extinguished in the process.

At Euro 2008, the Netherlands were the outstanding team until they were surprisingly beaten by Russia in the quarter-finals. Four years later, Russia captured the imagination with an outright 4-1 victory over the Czech Republic, but failed even to break out of the squad.

If Italy is suffocated by Austria or picked by Portugal, knowing looks will be exchanged, the status quo preserved. But if they can extend that winning streak to 15 games, the accepted wisdom will be called into question. Southgate and his ilk will have a new model to copy.


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