Mancini and Bonucci call for Italy improvement after beating Northern Ireland

By Sports Desk March 25, 2021

Roberto Mancini and Leonardo Bonucci acknowledged there is room for improvement from Italy, despite kicking off their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign with a routine 2-0 win over Northern Ireland.

Domenico Berardi scored for the third international running and Ciro Immobile doubled the Azzurri's lead before half-time in Thursday's Group C clash at Stadio Ennio Tardini.

After managing five attempts on target in a dominant first half, however, Italy dropped off in the second period and failed to test Bailey Peacock-Farrell on a single occasion.

Northern Ireland went close to pulling one back through strikes from Gavin Whyte, Michael Smith and Steven Davis, while Paddy McNair blazed over from a good position late on.

The victory was Italy's fourth in a row without conceding and extended their unbeaten run to 23 matches.

But Mancini was not pleased with what he saw in the second half of the game in Parma, which he put down to the lengthy break between matches for his side.

"After four months, the first half was excellent and we should've scored more goals," he told Rai Sport.

"We'll have to review the second half with the team, because we must do better than that. The first half was perfect and we should've had more goals.

"Perhaps we started to take a few too many touches after the break and the ball moved slowly, but that can happen after four months of not seeing each other.

"We could've won by a bigger margin in the first half, but we knew Northern Ireland were a physical side who could cause us problems. We made too many mistakes.

"The ball can go long at times, especially when we're pressed like that and the opposition are defending in numbers."

Italy's possession count dropped from 72.6 per cent in the first half to 59.6 in the second and they regularly gifted the ball to their opponents.

Bonucci, who became the eighth player to win 100 caps for Italy with his appearance on Thursday, accepted lessons can be learned from the contest.

"It's important that we kept a clean sheet, even if we made a lot of mistakes in the second half and need to improve, especially when we're in possession," he said.

"But what I've always liked since Mancini took over is the attitude. We face everyone without fear, we keep our nerve and go out there to win every game.

"It means there's a lot of hard work behind it, from the players and the staff, because the ideas are clear and we drill them in very quickly.

"The young players here have a lot of talent, along with the spirit of sacrifice and hard work, so these are the results."

With his 14th-minute strike in Parma, Immobile has now been directly involved in seven goals in his last seven starts for Italy - four goals and three assists.

It was a rare goal from open play, however, and the Lazio striker celebrated wildly at the empty ground.

"I felt a weight off my shoulders because I hadn't scored from open play for a year and a half in the Italy shirt," he told Rai Sport.

"I slipped on the first chance, the goalkeeper was there on the second, so I was feeling frustrated and let it all out after the third chance went in.

"Having competition for places only makes you more determined to find the net and help the team. [Andrea] Belotti scored last time, I got the goal this time, so there needs to be more faith in this Italy side."

Italy join second seeds Switzerland on three points at the top of Group C and travel to Sofia on Sunday to face Bulgaria in their next qualifier.

Mancini, who is one of only three coaches to stay unbeaten in his first 15 home matches in charge of Italy after Enzo Bearzot and Marcello Lippi, hinted he will heavily rotate his side for that match.

"We need to change something. We need some fresh players," he said at his post-match news conference. "Nothing should change on the pitch, even if we were to alter five players."

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