Italy coach Roberto Mancini promised changes after a difficult few months for the Azzurri was compounded by a crushing defeat to Argentina in Wednesday's Finalissima.

Argentina were comprehensive 3-0 winners at Wembley, as the CONMEBOL/UEFA 'Cup of Champions' was revived for the first time since 1993.

Lautaro Martinez, Angel Di Maria and Paulo Dybala got the goals as Lionel Messi pulled the strings, but in truth Italy were fortunate to only lose 3-0 against a hugely impressive Albiceleste.

It was only Italy's second match since their shock World Cup qualifying defeat to North Macedonia in March, with that loss preventing them from reaching Qatar 2022.

Despite the Azzurri winning Euro 2020 less than a year ago, Mancini is already looking to instigate something of a rebuild.

But he was keen to pay tribute to those who have played a key role over the past four years.

"In the first half we made two mistakes on their two goals, then they were better at keeping the ball," Mancini is quoted as saying by Sky Italia.

"They were better than us, but I must say thanks to these guys who have played in these four years.

"There is regret for the lack of qualification for the World Cup, and tonight's match was initially balanced, then they had superior quality to us.

"After this match we had in mind to change several things and we will do it. We need to find the players, put together a team that will suffer at the beginning and that in the future will be able to give us joy."

Clearly, the attack will be Mancini's primary focus in any rebuild as he rued a lack of threat going forward.

"We have great difficulty scoring at the moment, and we have to work a lot knowing that it will not be so simple and it will take time [to overcome their issues]," he continued.

"After the European Championship we struggled to score and we have to find solutions in this sense and try to be fast, but it will not be easy to put together a team that gives us short-term satisfaction even if there are good guys. We will have to make as few mistakes as possible.

"I have optimism. I like to work and train. It's true that we lost against a great Argentina team, but we must know that there will also be these moments and we must make sure that the youngest players learn quickly."

Italy now turn their attention to the Nations League. They face Germany on Saturday and again on June 14 – matches against Hungary and England are sandwiched in between.

Argentina's impressive 3-0 Finalissima win over Italy saw La Albiceleste set a national new record of 32 matches unbeaten.

Lionel Scaloni's men were sensational at Wembley, producing a dominant and rampant performance that could have seen them claim an even more one-sided victory.

Lautaro Martinez, Angel Di Maria and Paulo Dybala got the goals, while Lionel Messi pulled the strings as Argentina made something of a statement less than six months before the World Cup.

Argentina's last defeat was a 2-0 loss to bitter rivals Brazil in the semi-finals of the 2019 Copa America, but they got their revenge in the final last year, beating the Selecao 1-0 at the Maracana to clinch their first title in 28 years.

Their 32 games unbeaten is a new record for official games, though Argentina did go 33 matches without defeat under Alfio Basile – that run included two fixtures not recognised by FIFA as they were against the Rest of America and the Rest of World in 1991.

Argentina's streak is the longest currently intact in international football and leaves them just five adrift of the all-time record set by Italy themselves last year.

Argentina made an early statement of intent ahead of the World Cup with an impressively dominant 3-0 win over Italy to win the UEFA/CONMEBOL Finalissima at Wembley.

Although Italy failed to qualify for Qatar 2022, few would have expected the European champions to be so stunningly outclassed by the Copa America 2021 winners.

Much of the pre-game focus was on Giorgio Chiellini, but the last game of his distinguished international career ended at half-time with Argentina deservedly 2-0 up thanks to goals from Lautaro Martinez and Angel Di Maria.

Italy somehow prevented the inspired Lionel Messi and Di Maria adding more gloss to the scoreline, but Paulo Dybala finally got their third with the last kick of the game.

A brilliant intervention by Cristian Romero had earlier denied Andrea Belotti a simple finish in the 20th minute, with the striker then seeing a looping header saved by Emiliano Martinez a few moments later.

But Argentina soon took charge.

Messi wonderfully turned away from Giovanni Di Lorenzo and held him off before passing across goal for Martinez to tap home.

The Inter forward then turned provider on the stroke of half-time, spinning Leonardo Bonucci and feeding Di Maria, who lifted an audacious chip over the helpless Gianluigi Donnarumma.

Roberto Mancini made three changes at the break but if anything Argentina only became more dominant – Donnarumma desperately scurried back to stop a Bonucci back-pass going in, before importantly denying the excellent Di Maria twice.

Giovani Lo Celso then missed an open goal – albeit from a slightly tight angle – after great work by Messi, who subsequently tested Donnarumma twice.

But Donnarumma was eventually beaten again at the end, substitute Dybala finding the bottom-right corner after a solo Messi run terrified the Italy defence.

Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni says Italy did not deserve to miss out on the World Cup, while he cannot see Paulo Dybala being distracted by speculation over his future.

Euro 2020 winners Italy and Copa America champions Argentina meet in the 'Finalissima' at Wembley Stadium on Wednesday.

But there is no chance of the pair meeting in Qatar next November after Italy failed to make a second straight World Cup following play-off defeat against North Macedonia in March.

That led to questions over Roberto Mancini's future and the Italian system for failing to produce young players, with the Azzurri reliant on experienced campaigners such as Giorgio Chiellini and Ciro Immobile.

Scaloni was quick to back his opposite number Mancini as he expressed his dismay at Italy faltering in World Cup qualification.

"Italy did not deserve not to go to the World Cup, they are still European champions, a great team," Scaloni told reporters on Tuesday.

"There are games in which the ball does not want to enter the goal, and that's how the games are lost. But Mancini has done a great job, restoring a clear identity to Italy after so many years.

"I don't think he will make a lot of changes now, rather it will gradually change as we did: it happens to all national teams sooner or later that they have to change. Now they can start over."

Meanwhile, Dybala is heading for the exit door at Juventus when his contract expires in June, with Inter reportedly the favourites to sign the Bianconeri talisman.

As speculation persists over the future of the Argentina forward, Scaloni insisted that will not impact Dybala's performances for his country.

"These are situations that we have all had," Scaloni said of Dybala. "The important thing is that the players choose with their heads and then play.

"They are professionals and know how to manage certain situations. He is an extraordinary player and boy. He didn't play as much with us as we wanted, but we hope he will be a good choice for us in the future."

Teams from Belarus and Ukraine will not be drawn together in future, UEFA has announced.

European football's governing body has already banned Russian sides from appearing in its competitions following the country's invasion of Ukraine.

The role of Belarus in facilitating this invasion also prompted sanctions for Belarusian teams.

UEFA had already decided no matches would be played in Belarus and supporters of Belarusian teams would be banned from attending nominal home games.

And in a further move announced on Friday, UEFA said it would prevent sides from Belarus and Ukraine from meeting in future competitions.

"The UEFA Executive Committee will remain on standby to convene further meetings to reassess the legal and factual situation as it evolves and adopt further decisions as necessary," a statement read.

Meanwhile, UEFA's rules relating to coronavirus for the upcoming Women's Euro 2022 were approved.

Any players who contract COVID-19 or "who have been anyway put in isolation" will be classed as "cases of serious illness", meaning they can be replaced in their nation's squad ahead of the first match of the tournament.

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin labelled the crowd trouble at the Euro 2020 final between England and Italy as unacceptable and warned it must never happen again.

Italy secured their first European Championship since 1968 with a penalty shoot-out victory over England at Wembley Stadium in July, but the game was marred by clashes before the final.

Hundreds of supporters without tickets attempted to gain entry prior to kick-off, with an independent review later concluding it was "clear we were close to fatalities and/or life-changing injuries for some, potentially many" of the fans in attendance after 17 mass breaches of Wembley's gates.

UEFA punished the Football Association (FA) with a two-game stadium ban, one of which is suspended for two years, and an £84,560 fine.

The FA subsequently apologised and said it was appalled at the disorder that saw ticketless fans fight with stewards and police officers in an attempt to force their way into the stadium.

Ceferin, who was in attendance at the final, reinforced his disappointment with the failures of football as he spoke to a UEFA congress in Vienna on Wednesday.

"We still have many problems to solve to make our sport a role model and greater source of inspiration than it is today," Ceferin said.

"The images of violence at Wembley Stadium at last year's Euro final are unacceptable.

"When a family goes to see a match of any competition, it should be a time for fun, celebration and enjoyment. People should feel safe in and around a stadium.

"They should never feel in danger. With the authorities' help, this cannot happen again. Ever."

 

UEFA has extended its ban on Russian teams competing in European competition until at least the end of next season and declared the country's bid to host Euro 2028 or Euro 2032 "ineligible".

Russia has been hit by a number of sporting sanctions in wake of the country invading neighbouring Ukraine in March, with clubs blocked from competing in the Champions League, Europa League and Europa Conference League.

That will remain the case next season, while Russia's audacious bid to host the European Championship finals in the next decade has also been blocked due to "bringing the bidding procedure or European football into disrepute".

European football governing body UEFA confirmed the latest measures on Monday and also announced that Russia's men's national team will not compete in the upcoming UEFA Nations League, meaning they will automatically finish bottom of Group 2 League B.

In the women's game, meanwhile, Russia's place in Group C at July's Euro 2022 finals will be taken by Portugal, the side they defeated in the play-offs.

Russia's women's side will also not partake in any of their remaining World Cup 2023 qualification matches. Group E will therefore continue as a group of five teams.

That is also the case for the men's Under-21s side, who will play no further part in qualifying for the next European Under-21 Championship.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has dismissed the notion of Russia hosting Euro 2028 as "beyond satire", instead suggesting the tournament be awarded to Ukraine.

Russia launched a bid for either Euro 2028 or Euro 2032 on Wednesday, despite the country's ongoing invasion of their Eastern European neighbour.

That puts the 2018 World Cup hosts against a joint United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland bid for the former, an Italy bid for the latter and a Turkey bid for either event.

"The idea of Russia holding any idea of football tournament or any kind of cultural event right now is beyond satire," Johnson said in Brussels, where a Nato summit addressing Vladimir Putin's invasion is taking place.

"I can’t believe that anybody would seriously consider their suggestion."

Johnson appeared to forget that his own country had bid for Euro 2028 when he subsequently suggested the best path would be to hand it to Ukraine, who jointly hosted Euro 2012 with Poland.

"I think the best thing possible would be for the entire Russian forces to retire forthwith from Ukraine and hand the tournament to them," Johnson added.

Last year's rearranged Pan-European edition saw Italy triumph over England in a penalty shoot-out final at Wembley Stadium.

Hosts will be confirmed for 2028 and 2032 in September 2023, ahead of the next edition in Germany in 2024.

UEFA has confirmed it received declarations of interest from four potential bidders for hosting rights to Euro 2028 and Euro 2032.

The United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland launched a joint-bid for Euro 2028 earlier on Wednesday, while a Russian official remarkably confirmed its own interest in holding either of the two tournaments.

Russia's teams are currently banned from UEFA and FIFA competitions following the country's invasion of Ukraine, but the 2018 World Cup hosts pushed ahead regardless.

Turkey has joined Russia in announcing to UEFA its willingness to stage the European Championship in either 2028 or 2032.

While the two countries are up against the UK and Ireland in the first of the two finals, Italy is the other interested party four years later.

The hosts of the two tournaments will be announced in September 2023.

Russia has decided to apply to host Euro 2028 and Euro 2032 despite being banned from international football.

FIFA and UEFA suspended Russian national teams and clubs from competing following the country's invasion of Ukraine, pending an appeal the Russian Football Union (RFU) lodged to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Yet RFU executive committee member Sergey Anokhin has revealed Russia hopes to stage either the European Championship in 2028 or the next edition of the tournament four years later.

"The executive committee decided that we will apply for the European Championships in 2028 and Euro 2032," Anokhin said, as quoted by Sport Express.

The UK and Ireland submitted a joint expression of interest to host Euro 2028 ahead of Wednesday's deadline. It had been reported there would no rival bidders to the UK and Ireland for that tournament.

Russia hosted the World Cup four years ago, with France crowned champions.

 

The United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland have dropped plans to stage World Cup 2030 and will instead focus on a bid for Euro 2028.

A joint announcement from the football associations of England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic confirmed the decision following "an extensive feasibility study".

The committee chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Julian Knight, had previously derided the World Cup bid as a "giant, expensive vanity project".

The joint statement on Monday confirmed: "The feasibility study included an analysis of the economic impact, the political football landscape and likely costs of hosting major international tournaments. On balance, the five associations have decided to focus solely on an official bid to host UEFA Euro 2028, and have agreed not to bid for the 2030 FIFA World Cup.

"Hosting a UEFA Euro offers a similar return on investment, with the European tournament carrying a far lower delivery cost and the potential of the benefits being realised sooner.

"It would be an honour and a privilege to collectively host UEFA Euro 2028 and to welcome all of Europe. It would also be a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate the true impact of hosting a world-class football tournament by driving positive change and leaving a lasting legacy across our communities.

"We believe the UK and the Republic of Ireland can offer UEFA and European football something special in 2028 – a compact and unique five-way hosting collaboration that will provide a great experience for the teams and the fans."

England, which last hosted a major tournament when it staged the Euros in 1996, failed in a bid for the 2018 World Cup, which took place in Russia.

London and Glasgow were among the host cities for Euro 2020, with the semi-finals and final taking place at Wembley Stadium.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino has suggested the European Championship would follow suit and become a biennial event should the proposed World Cup plans succeed.

Led by chief of global football development Arsene Wenger, FIFA has been promoting the idea for the World Cup to shift format and take place every two years - an idea strongly opposed by both UEFA and CONMEBOL.

FIFA claimed to its member associations at their global summit in December that the alterations would make football $4.4billion richer over the initial four-year cycle.

Infantino, faced with strong opposition in Europe and South America, has now added further fuel to the fire by suggesting the Euros would happen more often if the biennial World Cup plans come to fruition.

Asked by Italian outlet Radio Anch'io what would happen to European football's premier international tournament in the wake of the World Cup proposals, Infantino responded: "The Euros would also take place every two years.

"In Europe, there is resistance because there is a World Cup every week with the leagues and the best players in the world, but that isn't the case for the rest of the world: It's a month a year, and we need to find a way to truly include the whole world in football."

Last month, UEFA published a contrasting independent survey that called the suggested changes "alarming" just hours before FIFA released a study that reported there is a "majority" in favour of a World Cup every two years.

Infantino again claimed that FIFA's prior findings suggested the change would be both feasible and accepted.

He added: "The presumptions are clear: 88 per cent of countries, including the majority of those in Europe, have asked for the study and the study tells us that from a sporting point of view, a World Cup every two years would work. 

"There would be fewer international matches but with a greater impact."

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is also part of a growing list of opposition, which includes Kylian Mbappe and Robert Lewandowski, fearing the impact of the changes on the world's sporting calendar.

As football concludes for 2021, you'd be forgiven for wondering if the past year even happened at all.

COVID-19 cases are skyrocketing, the climate crisis continues unabated, Donald Trump is crying election fraud and everyone is talking about cryptocurrency without really knowing why. If Bill Murray appeared on television to tell you we're stuck in a 2020 time loop, you'd barely even blink.

Well, 2021 really did happen, and we have the data to prove it. Here, Stats Perform presents a selection of the biggest footballing moments of the year, and the numbers that help to make them unforgettable – even if you can't remember what day it is...

Tuchel your fancy

Expectations are pretty high for Chelsea coaches, but winning the Champions League before you've been in the job for half a year – after replacing club legend Frank Lampard, no less – isn't a bad way to impress the owner! No but seriously, Thomas Tuchel is brilliant.

The Blues beat Atletico Madrid, Porto, Real Madrid and Manchester City in the knockouts as they became kings of Europe for the second time. They only conceded twice in those matches; in fact, Edouard Mendy became the first goalkeeper to keep as many as nine clean sheets in his debut season in the competition.

From Tuchel's first match in charge until the end of 2020-21, no Premier League team lost fewer games (five), conceded fewer goals (16) or kept more clean sheets (19) across all competitions than Chelsea. It's worth remembering that, Thomas, if you really do think your title hopes are already over at the halfway stage of the season.

Live and let Daei

Football's greatest-of-all-time debate is likely to drag on until humanity has long since gone extinct, with nothing left of civilisation except decaying ruins and NFTs of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, most likely dressed as goats, stored on a giant blockchain server at the centre of the Earth (no, we don't understand it all, either).

We can at least agree on one non-fungible Ronaldo record, though: as of 2021, he is the leading international goalscorer in the history of men's football.

A brace against the Republic of Ireland on September 1 took him to 111 for Portugal, two more than previous record-holder Ali Daei of Iran. Ronaldo will start the World Cup year on 115 goals in 184 international appearances – but without the Ballon d'Or on his mantelpiece...

Gerd lord, another record

With practically the final kick of the 2020-21 Bundesliga season, Robert Lewandowski pounced on a loose ball to score his 41st league goal and break Gerd Muller's previous single-season record of 40, which had stood since 1972.

Not satisfied with the greatest goalscoring effort in Germany's top flight for nearly half a century, Lewandowski ended 2021 with 43 goals for the calendar year (in only 34 games), again surpassing a previous best tally set by Muller. During that run, he became the first player in the competition to score in 13 consecutive home matches, beating the 12-game runs of Jupp Heynckes and, yes, Muller. The late Bayern great's record of a goal in 16 Bundesliga games in a row still stands, though, Lewandowski having been stopped from matching it by the crossbar in a 3-1 win at Greuther Furth in September.

This year also saw the Bayern Munich striker reach 120 away goals in the Bundesliga, which is, you guessed it, another record. At least this one was previously held by a different name: Klaus Fischer, on 117. Muller is third on 115, for what it's worth.

Let's talk about six, baby 

Liverpool started the year boasting the second-longest unbeaten home run in the history of England's top division: they had gone 68 games without defeat after losing 2-1 to Crystal Palace in April 2017, a streak only bettered by Chelsea (86 games ending in October 2008).

Then, they lost 1-0 to Burnley at Anfield. Then, 1-0 to Brighton and Hove Albion at Anfield. After that came a 4-1 battering by Manchester City, an almost unthinkable 2-0 loss to Everton, and then another pair of 1-0 defeats, this time to Chelsea and Fulham... and all at Anfield.

Six consecutive home defeats: something never endured by any Liverpool team before, nor any reigning champion of England's top flight.

Pep-pered with records

City were top of the Premier League on Christmas Day for the third time in their history. They won the league on the previous two occasions (in 2011 and 2017), so the omens are positive for 2021-22 – not that they need much divine intervention right now.

The reigning champions, boasting a 10-match winning streak, broke the record for the most victories in a calendar year in England's top flight with their 34th of 2021 against Newcastle United this month. The previous best was 33 set by Bob Paisley's Liverpool in 1982.

In the process, Pep Guardiola's men also set a new top-tier record of 18 away wins in a single year, beating the previous best of 17 set by Bill Nicholson's famous Tottenham side of 1960-61. Oh, and their 112 goals scored in 2021 is the best such calendar-year return in the Premier League era.

An Argentine tango – and a Messi divorce

Lionel Messi ends 2021 with 23 goals and eight assists in LaLiga, the most direct goal involvements of any player aside from Karim Benzema (41). And he hasn't played in the competition since May.

Messi's tearful departure from Barcelona, who decided they simply couldn't afford to keep the player they previously couldn't afford to lose, heralded the end of an era in Spanish football. It hasn't gone particularly well for either party, either: Barca, who sacked Ronald Koeman in November, sit seventh in LaLiga, while Messi has scored one goal in 11 Ligue 1 games for Paris Saint-Germain.

Club football might have been more of a nightmare than a dream for Messi this year, but the same cannot be said for his international exploits. He was the joint-top goalscorer and the tournament's best player as Argentina finally ended their long wait for silverware, defeating Brazil 1-0 in the final of the Copa America. It was enough to secure Messi a record-extending seventh Ballon d'Or, even though he seemed to think Lewandowski actually deserved to win (and, let's be honest, a lot of us did).

It's a Lille bit funny...

Last season, Paris Saint-Germain replaced Tuchel with Mauricio Pochettino ostensibly so they might win the Champions League. Instead, while Tuchel took Chelsea to European glory within just five months, Pochettino's PSG could not even keep hold of their Ligue 1 crown.

Lille won the French top flight for the fourth time in their history, becoming only the fourth side to win it at least twice since the turn of the century (the others being PSG, of course, Monaco and Lyon). Their triumph was inspired by the late-career renaissance of Burak Yilmaz: his 16 league goals were the most scored by anyone over the age of 35 in Europe's top five leagues last season, with the exception of Cristiano Ronaldo (29).

While their title defence isn't going too swimmingly – Lille are eighth in the table after 19 games, 18 points behind leaders PSG – they managed to win their Champions League group for the first time in seven attempts. They also boast the top scorer in Ligue 1 this term: Jonathan David, who was an 11-year-old playing for Ottawa Gloucester Hornets when Lille won their third league title in 2011, has scored 12 times already.

Get Inter the spirit

This year saw Inter end their decade-long wait for the Scudetto and bring about the end of Juventus' recent stranglehold on Serie A.

Inspired by Antonio Conte – who started Juve's nine-year title streak back in 2012 – and league MVP Romelu Lukaku, the Nerazzurri finished 12 points clear at the top as their coach became the man with the best points-per-game ratio (2.26) in the modern history of Italy's top flight.

Despite a close-season of upheaval in which Conte walked, Lukaku returned to Chelsea and Achraf Hakimi went to PSG, Inter go into next year with a four-point advantage at the top and just one defeat in 19 league games, having scored over 100 league goals in a calendar year for the first time in their history.

Mancini's miracle

Italy's second European Championship trophy, secured courtesy of a penalty shoot-out win over England at Wembley, was the pinnacle of a quite remarkable run of results under Roberto Mancini.

The Azzurri would go on to set a new world record in men's international football of 37 matches without defeat, during which they won 30, scored 93 goals and conceded only 12. The run ended when they lost 2-1 to Spain in the Nations League semi-finals in Milan, marking their first competitive home defeat since 1999.

In the first 33 of those matches, starting from a 1-1 draw with Ukraine in October 2018, they were behind for only 44 minutes. At Euro 2020, they had five players who scored at least twice, they ended the tournament with a joint-high 13 goals and conceded only four. And yet, in 2022, they must navigate the play-offs – and potentially a meeting with Portugal – if they are to avoid failing to qualify for the World Cup for the second time in a row.

Palmeiras pull off the unbeliev-Abel

The Copa Libertadores final is not something Andreas Pereira will want to remember: it was the Manchester United loanee's error that allowed substitute Deyverson to win it for Palmeiras in extra time.

This was a historic result, though. Not only were Palmeiras the first team since Boca Juniors 20 years ago to win back-to-back Libertadores trophies, but Abel Ferreira became the only European coach to win the competition twice.

Before his time in Brazil, arguably Abel's finest achievement in his post-playing career was helping PAOK reach 51 league games unbeaten – although he was only actually in charge for 17 of those matches, including the 4-2 loss to Aris that brought the streak to an end.

Roberto Mancini has expressed regret about Italy's failure to secure automatic World Cup qualification and warned the Azzurri must forget about their Euro 2020 success ahead of the playoffs.

Italy, who missed out on the 2018 World Cup, have undergone a transformative period under former Inter and Manchester City manager Mancini. That culminated in them triumphing at Euro 2020 – their first European Championship title since 1968.

The Azzurri embarked on a world-record 37-game unbeaten run, which ended at the hands of Spain in the Nations League semi-finals in October, but their World Cup prospects hang in the balance.

Italy finished runners-up to Switzerland in Group C, as did Portugal to Serbia in Group A. The pair were then drawn on the same play-off path, meaning there is no way that Mancini's side and Cristiano Ronaldo and co can both qualify for Qatar 2022.

Italy have to navigate past North Macedonia in the play-off semi-final in late March and Mancini wishes his side had managed to confirm qualification earlier.

He told Sky Sports Italia: "Yes, but this is football, it is sport. Sometimes you deserve to win and you don't win, we deserved to finish the group much earlier.

"We let ourselves go a bit and now we have to roll up our sleeves and do a great job in the two games. But I remain optimistic, as I knew that our group with Switzerland would be difficult. I thought we would qualify, but I knew it would be difficult."

Reflecting on Euro 2020 success, Mancini said: "We have done an extraordinary thing, we have made millions of people happy. It is the most beautiful thing, of which we are all proud.

"But the European Championship is behind us, now we have to think about something else."

The play-offs are one-leg ties, with Italy and Portugal hosting North Macedonia and Turkey in their respective semi-finals.

The winners of those two semi-finals will meet in a final, in which Portugal or Turkey will be at home, to secure a place at Qatar 2022.

If Italy can negotiate such a tricky route, Mancini believes they have players who will benefit from experiencing a World Cup.

He said: "There are many players who can improve a lot and, for me, it will be important to go to the World Cup because I think there are 10-12 players who can improve a lot going to the World Cup, if we go there."

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