Italy coach Roberto Mancini was disappointed Euro 2020 had to be called off but described the recent scenes in his country as "a punch in the face".

UEFA made the decision to postpone the European Championship until 2021, while all other UEFA competitions and matches for clubs and national teams have been put on hold until further notice.

Mancini said he had been talking to players as part of his preparations for Italy's scheduled March friendlies against England and Germany.

But with the coronavirus hitting Italy particularly hard, he said his focus now is on helping those in need, with the death toll in Italy passing 4,800 on Saturday.

"In the past few weeks I called some of my players, especially those who are injured and ones in doubt," Mancini told Gazzetta dello Sport. "I worked on the friendlies with England and Germany and I started setting up Euro 2020.

"I must admit that I felt disappointed when it was announced [that it was cancelled].

"The film of that military convoy that took the coffins away from Bergamo was a punch in the face, the hardest and most striking image.

"No one was ready for this hell. To think that people are dying because there's a lack of beds and respirators.

"I never even thought about leaving Italy, because I feel safe here and our medics are doing heroic work. I want to feel close to those who are in difficulty.

"And I say that as a simple citizen, not as someone who has a symbolic role in Italy."

Mancini said he was heartened by the displays of solidarity among Italian citizens being widely shared on social media, where videos of communities spontaneously bursting into song from their balconies have become popular.

"I like it very much," said the former Manchester City head coach. "It's the most authentic Italy. It represents us.

"It is we who give our best in difficult circumstances, when we hug, help and put all our humanity into play.

"These people, after so much pain and fear, would have deserved the European Championship to get distracted and start again."

Roberto Mancini said Italy can win the European Championship even if the finals are rescheduled for 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

UEFA is set to hold a critical summit on Tuesday, with talks planned on whether or not the finals can be held as scheduled in June and July, and Italian football federation president Gabriele Gravina has said he will call for the tournament to be postponed.

Italy has been one of the worst-affected countries by the coronavirus and players across all Serie A clubs are training at home in self-isolation.

The Azzurri's scheduled March friendlies against England and Germany have been cancelled, but head coach Mancini said football is not his top priority at the current time, telling Rai Sport: "I don't know how it will end. But there are more important things than Euro 2020, without a doubt.

"If they postpone the tournament, we can win even in a year. The important thing is the health of everyone and that we can all return to the stadium and enjoy ourselves.

"Seeing people die in these last few days is hurting us too much."

Italy won all 10 of their European Championship qualifying matches, which culminated in a 9-1 thrashing of Armenia in November.

Mancini said he has a squad of players in mind for the finals but indicated he is prepared to reassess his plans if the tournament is postponed.

"I had a fairly safe list of players called," he said. "It was ready with only a few doubts to decide at the last minute.

"However, if the tournament is suspended for a year, there will be a few changes.

"We have to wait to Tuesday to understand if UEFA will decide to postpone Euro 2020. The problems we have had in Italy in the last 15 days will now be seen in other countries."

Nicolo Zaniolo was taken off on a cart after suffering a serious-looking injury in front of Italy coach Roberto Mancini during Roma's Serie A clash with Juventus on Sunday.

The 20-year-old had his head in his hands as he was withdrawn 36 minutes in after injuring his left leg when Juve defender Matthijs de Ligt halted his progress with a foul on the edge of the penalty area.

Zaniolo had beaten four Juve players during a brilliant run which started near his own penalty area, but De Ligt - himself on for the injured Merih Demiral - stepped out and brought him down with a body check that earned the centre-back a caution.

The Roma midfielder writhed in pain on the edge of the box and needed a cart to be helped off the field, with Mancini, watching on from the stands, wearing a concerned expression.

Zaniolo has scored twice for Italy in his five appearances and had been expected to be a key figure for Mancini during Euro 2020.

Roma were 2-0 down to Juve at the time of Zaniolo's injury having conceded twice in the opening 10 minutes.

Buoyed by two wins from two as Everton manager, Carlo Ancelotti begins the new decade back in the division where he was the first title-winner of the previous one.

Tactical thought in the 2010s was dominated by the Dutch-Catalan school's influence, as Pep Guardiola refined Johan Cruyff's vision to stunning effect with his dominant Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City sides, throwing in some South American seasoning as a Marcelo Bielsa disciple.

Guardiola, of course, has a more than worthy adversary in Jurgen Klopp, who looks to be at the beginning of his own imperial period at Liverpool. The gegenpressing master has refined his high-octane approach to find something utterly relentless – more motorik krautrock than heavy metal football.

Whenever major clubs make a managerial appointment nowadays, talk of "philosophy" and an overarching vision are rarely far away. This is the age of high-concept football.

Amid all of this, despite Serie A losing some of its lustre and the Azzurri humiliatingly failing to make the 2018 World Cup, Italian coaching remains something of a gold standard.

Ancelotti was the first of four of his compatriots to win the Premier League in the 2010s. Roberto Mancini lifted Manchester City's first English title for 44 years in 2011-12, leaving in place foundations Guardiola has built handsomely upon.

Mancini is now in charge of an Italy side that has not looked in such good health since Antonio Conte's time at the helm. Former Juventus boss Conte left after Euro 2016 and promptly won the Premier League with Chelsea. In doing so, he followed a countryman into the winner's enclosure.

Claudio Ranieri's 2015-16 march to glory with Leicester City stands apart as the outstanding club football achievement of the past 10 years.

A mix of football cultures

Ranieri and ex-Bayern Munich boss Ancelotti have also worked with distinction in Spain and France, while Mancini's route back to home came via stints at Galatasaray and Zenit.

All four men have some similarities in their approaches but do not speak of a uniform style. They are testament to the flexible and shape-shifting qualities of an ingrained Italian tradition.

"We have to make a mix of our football culture with the cultures of other European countries," said Renzo Ulivieri, the director of the Scuola Allenatori – Italy's coaching school.

"I think that our best quality is we are not closed, but we are open to other football cultures. We mix our culture with others."

Omnisport spoke to Ulivieri during a visit to the Italian Football Federation (FIGC)'s Coverciano headquarters, which was bathed in the glow of late autumn sunshine last month.

A picturesque location around five kilometres east of Florence, nestled below Monte Cereci where Leonardo da Vinci tested his flying machine half a century ago, Coverciano is where the latest generation of Italian coaches seek to take their country's proud tradition of tactical excellence to new heights.

Along with being home to all of Italy's national squads and a treasure trove of a museum celebrating each of their four World Cup triumphs, Coverciano is a campus that exists as football's equivalent to Harvard and Oxford.

Ulvieri oversees the UEFA Pro License course, already known as Il Master before it took on the standards of the highest coaching qualification set by European football's governing body.

Back to school with Pirlo and Toni

A Coverciano coaching education still stands apart. Alongside intensive tactical and technical elements, psychology, communication and sports medicine form part of the studies.

Andrea Pirlo, Luca Toni, Thiago Motta and Walter Samuel were among the 2019-20 intake, who found themselves trading free afternoons following training for eight-hour classroom days.

The course concludes with a set of oral exams and the completion of a detailed tactical thesis, which students present in the same oak-panelled room where we sat down with Ulivieri, resplendent in a federation tracksuit and speaking via an interpreter with a twinkle-eyed enthusiasm that belied his 78 years.

"It's a sort of obsessive thing for me," he said, when discussing the adaptability that has helped Italian coaches continue to thrive throughout a fast-changing period.

"A football coach has to arrange things with the players that he has. Being able to arrange is the main topic because, for the names like Marco Rossi, the coach of Hungary, it is more difficult to be a coach in these countries, instead of being a coach in France, in England.

"Italian people are a population who travel so much, so they have to arrange to go in other cultures. I want to explain to [the students] what will be their future life.

"There are some coaches, for example, who make a good season and then the other seasons are not so good. These are coaches who have not adjusted their football and arranged for the players they have.

"The future of football will be with a very big flexibility in tactics, because the tactics of a football team do not only change from match to match but also within the same match. Now we are seeing this. In future, football teams will play in two or three different ways."

A passion for tactics

Ulivieri's longevity is evidence he practiced what he preached.

Starting as an amateur coach in the mid-1960s in his native Tuscany – a region he still proudly proclaims to be a hotbed, with the exploits of Massimiliano Allegri, Maurizio Sarri and others backing up the point – Ulivieri boasts a bulging Serie A CV that features spells in charge of a young Mancini at Sampdoria, Cagliari, Parma, Napoli, Torino and Roberto Baggio's renaissance at Bologna.

His last top division post was with Reggina in 2007-08, although the obsession remains.

Alongside his day job at Coverciano, Ulivieri continues to coach women's Serie C side Pontedera, where he is still keen to throw around the odd bold tactical scheme.

"With the team, we are in a low level but I am still a coach because I have the passion and I want to try something. I want to try some tactical concepts on the field," he explained.

"Recently, I was speaking and I told them we will make a tactical approach that no team is doing."

Asked to elaborate, Ulivieri eagerly took Omnisport's notepad and sketched out a sort of 4-2-4 formation, featuring a rhombus of forwards where width would be provided by the central midfielders overlapping into wide areas.

A discussion of Sheffield United's successful adaptation to the Premier League followed, with Ulivieri fascinated to learn of Chris Wilder's roving wide centre-backs.

"I will study it," he exclaimed, before sounding a note of caution for Wilder and his contemporaries.

"In the past, tactical innovation could last four years, now maybe one year. We have to change always."

Back to the future

Coverciano's latest intake studied England's 1966 World Cup winners towards the end of 2019, with Ulivieri highlighting the movements of Roger Hunt, Martin Peters and Bobby Charlton as useful ploys against zonal defences of the modern day.

"Sometimes the past comes back," he said. "When Guardiola says my first forward is the space, before Guardiola was England with Bobby Charlton and the great Hungary team before that.

"Ideas in football come back always. We have to know everything. We have to know the past but we have to guess the future. Guessing the future is our main topic."

So, what will that future look like?

"More flexible," Ulivieri reiterated. "We will work for principles, not for schemes. We see this today in the big teams with big players.

"In the future, we will have players who are able to do many things, not just one. These things [Sheffield United's tactics] would be unthinkable with the players of 20 years ago. These players have to be athletic.

"In the future, we will have players who will be able to play here, there and in all parts of the field."

Thanks to their impeccable education and tradition, if feels safe to assume Coverciano's next alumni will lead these versatile stars with distinction, leaving their marks all over the 2020s as their predecessors did in the decade just passed.

England will face Italy in the first of four warm-up matches for Euro 2020, with Gareth Southgate's side set to host the Azzurri on March 27.

The Three Lions secured qualification for next year's finals in style with a 7-0 thrashing of Montenegro in November, before rounding off their campaign by defeating Kosovo 4-0.

Southgate's side will face Croatia, victors in the 2018 World Cup semi-final meeting between the teams, and the Czech Republic - who inflicted England's only defeat of the qualification campaign - in Group D, with Scotland, Israel, Norway or Serbia set to complete the pool.

Four-time world champions Italy have won 11 straight games under Roberto Mancini, their longest run of consecutive victories, and will play Turkey, Switzerland and Wales in Group A, with all of the Azzurri's group matches to be played in Rome.

England have also lined up friendlies against Denmark on March 31, Austria on June 2 and Romania five days later, with their Euros campaign set to kick-off at Wembley on June 14.

Roberto Mancini has warned Italy not to underestimate the less glamorous teams joining them in Group A at Euro 2020.

The Azzurri will face Turkey, Switzerland and Wales next June after receiving a relatively kind draw.

Mancini's men will be expected to reach the knockout rounds after maintaining a perfect record through qualifying, the only nation alongside Belgium to accomplish this feat.

But in 2016 semi-finalists Wales, a talented Turkey team and a Switzerland side boasting the best FIFA ranking of the four, Mancini found hidden demons.

"I don't think the group will be as simple as some are saying," the former Inter head coach told Radio Anch'io.

"They are annoying teams with nothing to lose. They all have good players and a lot of young players.

"Switzerland know us well and are always annoying to face, Wales can be a surprise with players in the Premier League and Turkey took four points from France in their qualifying group.

"These are teams that are difficult to deal with, but we are optimistic."

Euro 2020 will mark Italy's first appearance at a major tournament in four years, following the shock failure to reach the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Mancini confirmed the squad he intends to take is already largely settled.

He said: "I believe the group is now outlined, but obviously if an extraordinary young man, a Paolo Rossi or [Salvatore] Schillaci, were to emerge in the next six months, we would be very pleased."

Roberto Mancini is unsure if rivals are worried about Italy ahead of Euro 2020, but feels they may prefer to avoid playing his side at the tournament.

Italy completed a perfect qualifying campaign in Group J with a 9-1 demolition of Armenia in Palermo on Monday.

While their impressive performances are sure to see them considered among the favourites at next year's showpiece tournament, Mancini feels other nations are ahead of Italy in their growth.

"I don't know if they are worried or not," the Italy coach told a news conference.

"I think they are stronger because they are one step ahead with their plan. France started some years ago, they reached a Euro final and won the World Cup. They are young and I think they are one of the strongest teams. Spain the same.

"Belgium in the last five, six years produced a lot of outstanding talents. Then England.

"All those teams stared earlier. Italy has a great history. I don't think other teams will face Italy easily.

"Maybe they are not scared, buy if they could choose would face another opponent instead of Italy."

Ciro Immobile and Nicolo Zaniolo scored braces against Armenia, while Nicolo Barella, Alessio Romagnoli, Jorginho, Riccardo Orsolini and Federico Chiesa were also on the scoresheet.

Mancini praised his players for their improvement and hopes there is more to come from Italy at Euro 2020.

"These are all young lads who are improving game by game. Playing at international level brings experience, they've got the quality, it's just a matter of time," he told Rai Sport.

"We’ll see what happens at Euro 2020. We'd never won all 10 games in a qualifying group, we've got six months to prepare for the championship and unfortunately I will have to leave some behind, as I can only bring 23 players.

"If we can continue like this, that would be great."

The draw for the final tournament will be held on November 30.

Leonardo Bonucci believes Italy are not yet at the same level as Spain, France, Germany and England, but the defender feels they can reach that standard.

Italy won a record 10th straight match with a 3-0 victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina in Euro 2020 qualifying on Friday and host Armenia on Monday.

Despite their run, Bonucci said Italy – who claimed their only European Championship in 1968 – still had progress to make.

"We will reach the level of the top teams in Europe but we still need to improve to compete against those teams who have achieved something important in recent years," the Juventus defender told a news conference.

"We are not at the level of Spain, France, Germany and England because of our lack of experience.

"They have a lot of world-class players and we don't, but we have all the qualities and the potential to reach that level."

The great Arrigo Sacchi recently hailed Italy's performances under head coach Roberto Mancini, who took over after the nation failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

Mancini – whose side have won all nine of their Group J qualifiers ahead of facing Armenia – was thankful for the praise and said he wanted Italy to develop a winning mentality.

"Thanks to Arrigo Sacchi for the compliments, it is such a pleasure to receive nice words from someone like him," he said.

"I was not expecting 10 wins, but of course I was expecting qualification.

"Winning games was not our priority at the beginning. Our main task was to do something new and different to make our fans happy and passionate again.

"Then, we wanted to give our players a winning mentality, because this is the best way to achieve success."

Roberto Mancini revelled in watching his Italy side break new ground in Friday's 3-0 Euro 2020 qualifying win at Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Francesco Acerbi, Lorenzo Insigne and Andrea Belotti were on target as the already qualified Azzurri maintained a 100 per cent record in Group J after nine matches.

The result marked a 10th consecutive victory for Italy, a feat no other Azzurri side has ever managed.

It broke the previous best achieved by Vittorio Pozzo's side between 1938 and 1939, a fact that brought plenty of joy to head coach Mancini.

"It's pleasing. We've beaten a mythical feat, and this can only be a pleasure," Mancini told Rai Sport.

"Tonight I saw a great Italy performance. We knew it wouldn't be an easy game, even though they had nothing to play for, but we immediately got on the right track."

Mancini has rotated with his central striker through qualifying, with Belotti earning the nod ahead of Ciro Immobile this time and backing up his double against Liechtenstein last time out.

"If they score it's better for us and we hope they continue in this way in matches during the Euros," Mancini said of his striker options.

Mancini identified a fault, though, saying: "We played too far back. When you are tired you have to stand taller because if you are convinced you've won the game you risk opening it up again."

Roberto Mancini and his Italy side broke new ground in their comfortable 3-0 win at Bosnia-Herzegovina on Friday.

The victory in the Euro 2020 qualifier not only ensured they maintained a 100 per cent record in Group J but also saw the Azzurri rack up a 10th consecutive triumph.

No Italy side has ever achieved such a feat and they will look to stretch the streak in their final qualifier against Armenia on Monday.

Below, we take a look back at Italy's record-breaking run.


Italy 1-0 United States: Nov 20, 2018

The run started with an unconvincing 1-0 victory over USA in Genk a little under a year ago. Italy dominated proceedings but needed Matteo Politano's 94th-minute strike to secure the win.


Italy 2-0 Finland: Mar 23, 2019

Euro 2020 qualifying started in convincing fashion for Mancini's men in Udine. Nicolo Barella's deflected effort and a first Azzurri goal for Moise Kean did the damage.


Italy 6-0 Liechtenstein: Mar 26, 2019

Fabio Quagliarella became Italy's oldest international scorer at the age of 36 as Liechtenstein were hammered in Parma. The veteran scored two penalties in the rout - the latter after Daniel Kaufmann was sent off on the stroke of half-time - while Stefano Sensi, Marco Verratti, Kean and Leonardo Pavoletti were also on target. 


Greece 0-3 Italy: Jun 8, 2019

A flying start to qualifying continued in Athens in a match that was essentially over thanks to a three-goal 10-minute salvo in the first half. Barella's thumping opener was added to by Lorenzo Insigne's sumptuous strike, before Leonardo Bonucci headed in the third. 


Italy 2-1 Bosnia-Herzegovina: Jun 11, 2019

In one of the trickiest encounters during Italy's run, the hosts fell behind to Roma striker Edin Dzeko's close-range effort after 32 minutes. Insigne levelled shortly after the break, but it took until the 86th minute for Verratti to curl home the winner.


Armenia 1-3 Italy: Sep 5, 2019

Italy again had to come from behind after Aleksandre Karapetian put Armenia in a surprise lead, but he was sent off after Andrea Belotti's leveller. Still, it was not until the 77th minute that Lorenzo Pellegrini headed the visitors ahead, and an unfortunate own goal from goalkeeper Aram Ayrapetyan rounded out the win.


Finland 1-2 Italy: Sep 8, 2019

A hectic final 30 minutes saw Teemu Pukki cancel out Ciro Immobile's header to draw Finland level from the penalty spot. However, a spot-kick of their own from Jorginho after a handball from Sauli Vaisanen maintained Italy's 100 per cent record in qualifying.


Italy 2-0 Greece: Oct 12, 2019

A month later, another Jorginho penalty set Italy on their way against Greece in Rome and Federico Bernardeschi added a second as the Azzurri booked their place at Euro 2020.


Liechtenstein 0-5 Italy: Oct 15, 2019

It was another luckless night for Liechtenstein, who were turned over in Vaduz. Belotti scored twice, while Bernardeschi, Alessio Romagnoli and Stephan El Shaarawy put their names on the scoresheet.


Bosnia-Herzegovina 0-3 Italy: Nov 15, 2019

The record-breaking day arrived in Zenica as Italy controlled proceedings. Francesco Acerbi's first goal for his country and Insigne's strike after 37 minutes had the visitors coasting at the break. Belotti struck a fine third to ensure a new landmark was set.

Roberto Mancini will not recall Mario Balotelli to the Italy squad just to make an anti-racism statement but is adamant the Brescia striker is still young enough to make an impact for the Azzurri.

Balotelli, 29, was subjected to racist abuse by Hellas Verona fans in a 2-1 defeat this month and threatened to walk off the pitch.

Verona were ordered by Serie A to play a match with a partial stadium closure, while the club banned head ultra Luca Castellini for 11 years after he defended the fans' actions in a radio interview.

Balotelli returned to the Italy fold in 2018 after a four-year absence but has been back in the international wilderness since a 1-1 draw with Poland last September.

Mancini, the coach who gave him his big break at Inter in 2007, insists he is eager to see Balotelli play his way back into the squad, but he will not call up the forward for anything other than his performances.

"Football is a sport and as such it must unite people and not get destroyed by those few who make mistakes," Mancini told reporters.

"I love Mario. I played him when he was a teenager. He is still young enough to give much to the sport, but for me it is important to state that if I am to call him up, it's because he deserves it and can help us.

"Then, after what happened, I could have called him up, as the [Italian Football Federation] president [Gabriele Gravina] said, but I think it's important I call him when he technically deserves it, not to send a message. He still has other chances.

"We are nearly in 2020 and skin colour... It is not very easy for some people to change their attitude, unfortunately.

"We called up some young players [instead] because from now until March we will not have the chance to see them live [for Italy]."

Italy are due to face Bosnia-Herzegovina and Armenia in their final two Euro 2020 qualifiers on Friday and the following Monday, respectively.

The Azzurri are already assured of a place at next year's tournament.

Roberto Mancini has handed maiden Italy call-ups to Riccardo Orsolini, Gaetano Castrovilli and Andrea Cistana for their final Euro 2020 qualifiers.

Forward Orsolini has scored once and provided three assists for a Bologna side who sit 13th in Serie A after 11 games.

Castrovilli has been impressive in the heart of Fiorentina's midfield so far this term, while Cistana has been an ever-present for struggling Brescia.

Chelsea full-back Emerson Palmieri returns having missed the previous squad through injury, while Udinese midfielder Rolando Mandragora and Sassuolo forward Domenico Berardi are also recalled.

Italy have already qualified for next year's Euros having taken maximum points from eight matches in Group J of qualifying.

The Azzurri will look to complete a perfect campaign when they face off against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Armenia.


Italy squad in full: Gianluigi Donnarumma (AC Milan), Pierluigi Gollini (Atalanta), Alex Meret (Napoli), Salvatore Sirigu (Torino); Francesco Acerbi (Lazio), Cristiano Biraghi (Inter), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Andrea Cistana (Brescia), Giovanni Di Lorenzo (Napoli), Emerson Palmieri (Chelsea), Alessandro Florenzi (Roma), Armando Izzo (Torino), Gianluca Mancini (Roma), Alessio Romagnoli (AC Milan), Leonardo Spinazzola (Roma); Nicolo Barella (Inter), Gaetano Castrovilli (Fiorentina), Jorginho (Chelsea), Rolando Mandragora (Udinese), Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain), Nicolo Zaniolo (Roma); Andrea Belotti (Torino), Domenico Berardi (Sassuolo), Federico Bernardeschi (Juventus), Federico Chiesa (Fiorentina), Stephan El Shaarawy (Shanghai Shenhua), Ciro Immobile (Lazio), Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli), Riccardo Orsolini (Bologna).

Christian Eriksen was rumoured to be close to leaving Tottenham at the beginning of the season.

Real Madrid were among the clubs interested in the Dane, whose contract expires in 2020, but a move did not materialise before the end of the transfer window.

But that has not deterred the Spanish giants, with Zinedine Zidane willing to move two fringe players away from them Santiago Bernabeu to get a deal done for the 27-year-old.

 

TOP STORY - LOS BLANCOS PAVING WAY FOR ERIKSEN

Real Madrid could reignite their interest in Christian Eriksen in the January transfer window, AS reports a move will only happen if Madrid dispense of two players.

Isco and Mariano Diaz are understood to be the most likely to be sacrificed.

Mariano is yet to make a single appearance this season but could command a fee of around €20million, while Isco's two LaLiga starts came in the draw against Real Valladolid in August and last weekend's loss to Mallorca.

 

ROUND-UP

- Chelsea striker Olivier Giroud is being eyed up by Crystal Palace for a January switch across London, according to the Daily Star.

- El Mundo reports Barcelona and Atletico Madrid have ended their dispute over the transfer of Antoine Griezmann with an extra €15m changing hands.

- The Daily Mail claim Arsenal are in pole position to sign RB Leipzig's France Under-21 defender Dayot Upamecano.

- Italy boss Roberto Mancini has not ruled out a return to the national team for veteran duo Gianluigi Buffon and Daniele De Rossi as he shapes his squad for Euro 2020.

- The Sun says Juventus and Atletico Madrid are chasing 19-year-old West Bromwich Albion defender Nathan Ferguson.

Italy matched a national team record as a 5-0 thrashing of Liechtenstein stretched their winning streak to nine games, but head coach Roberto Mancini's still sees areas where they can improve.

The Azzurri, who qualified for Euro 2020 by beating Greece at the weekend, eased to victory against Group J minnows Liechtenstein on Tuesday.

Victory means the current crop have equalled the achievement of the Italy team that played under Vittorio Pozzo, with their run spanning from May 1938 to March 1939.

Mancini, however, is more interested in another Pozzo record, as he explained following proceedings at the Rheinpark Stadion.

"Matching Pozzo's record of victories is nice, but I'd rather match his record of winning two World Cups!" Mancini, who also said there was still plenty of improvements for his side to make, told Rai Sport.

"It was natural with so many changes that we'd lack some consistency. There were some positives, other things we can improve, but the main issue was that these players haven't really worked together before."

Federico Bernardeschi opened the scoring inside two minutes – the Azzurri's fastest goal since June 2013 – though Italy had to wait until midway through the second half to double their lead.

Andrea Belotti headed home in the 70th minute, sparking a flurry of goals, the forward grabbing another after Alessio Romagnoli and Stephan El Shaarawy had also scored.

El Shaarawy's goal marked his first Italy appearance since 2017 and the former Roma and AC Milan forward admitted it was an emotional moment.

"There was a bit of everything. It was emotional for me, very satisfying to be back on the field in an Italy jersey," El Shaarawy told Rai Sport.

"I feel Italy really deserved this qualification and these results, as we are all working so hard and are very pleased with how things are going.

"I was so hungry to be out there, as my last game for Italy was two years ago, the play-off that saw us fail to reach the World Cup. I needed to change the impressions from that match."

Italy continued their perfect record in Euro 2020 qualifying as Andrea Belotti's double helped them claim an emphatic 5-0 away win over Group J minnows Liechtenstein.

Federico Bernardeschi scored as Italy secured their place at next year's finals with a 2-0 triumph over Greece on Saturday, and the Juventus winger wasted little time in making his mark on Tuesday as he rattled in the Azzurri's fastest goal since June 2013.

The Azzurri were fortunate not to have fallen behind inside the opening 60 seconds, with Dennis Salanovic proving a real menace to the visitors throughout, though Salvatore Sirigu came out on top in an entertaining duel.

Sirigu's saves set the stage for a late Italy charge that included four goals in the last 20 minutes.

Belotti made sure of the points before Alessio Romagnoli and substitute Stephan El Shaarawy got in on the act - with Italy's striker helping himself to a second in stoppage time.

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