Italy extended their impressive unbeaten run to 27 matches as they completed their Euro 2020 preparations with a 4-0 victory over the Czech Republic on Friday.

Ciro Immobile and Nicolo Barella grabbed first-half goals in the friendly fixture at the Renato Dall'Ara Stadium in Bologna, though both benefited from seeing their attempts take crucial deflections to beat Jiri Pavlenka.

Lorenzo Insigne required no help to add a third in the 66th minute and then set up Domenico Berardi for the final goal as the Czechs were easily bounced, producing a worrying performance ahead of their involvement in the European Championship.

In contrast, the Azzurri head into the delayed tournament having not been beaten since a 1-0 reverse against Portugal in a Nations League fixture back in September 2018.

Not long after an injury scare for Leonardo Bonucci that saw the Juventus centre-back require treatment on his right knee, Immobile opened the scoring when his close-range shot clipped Ondrej Celustka to wrong-foot goalkeeper Pavlenka.

If that goal was somewhat unfortunate for the Czech Republic, the second they conceded was just plain bizarre.

Barella was allowed to carry the ball when in possession before taking aim from just outside the penalty area, his effort hitting not one but two defenders before ending up in the net.

Jan Boril's bid to make a block on the Inter midfielder only sent the ball onto compatriot Jakub Brabec, who – with his back turned – ended up sending the ball looping up and over the luckless Pavlenka.

Immobile's clever throughball allowed Insigne to curl a right-footed attempt into the net, while the scorer of Italy's third turned provider to set up Berardi for a cheeky finish, with an initial dummy fooling Pavlenka to allow the Sassuolo player to flick in with his left foot.

Roberto Mancini handed Berardi's club colleague Giacomo Raspadori a debut off the bench, but the forward – a surprise selection in the final 26-man squad announced on Monday – could not mark the memorable occasion by adding his name to the list of scorers.

After a year's delay, Euro 2020 will finally get under way when Italy take on Turkey in Rome on Friday, June 11.

Some of the world's top talents will be on display in the month-long tournament, including the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kylian Mbappe, Robert Lewandowski and Harry Kane.

But away from the elite players, there are a clutch of others looking to overshadow those aforementioned names and leave their own mark on the pan-European competition.

Using Opta data, Stats Perform picks out eight under-the-radar stars – those that would not necessarily be considered as one of the favourites for individual honours before a ball is kicked – ahead of the tournament.

 

Federico Chiesa (Italy and Juventus)

Juventus may have endured one of their worst campaigns in recent memory last time out, but Chiesa can hold his head up high after impressing in his first year at the Allianz Stadium.

He was the man for the big occasions, scoring a couple of goals in January's league victory over Milan and the winner in Juve's Coppa Italia triumph against Atalanta.

The 23-year-old was a regular threat down both flanks ​– only Benevento forward Riccardo Improta (77, 29.87 per cent) had more open-play crosses in Serie A last season with a higher success rate than Chiesa (69, 27.54 per cent).

That ability to both create and score goals, plus his never-say-die spirit – best embodied by his three goals in two legs of the Champions League last-16 knockout defeat to Porto – means he is already a fan favourite in Turin.

"He tries to ignite the fans at home on the couch to let them feel the game like the players in the pitch," former Juve striker Fabrizio Ravanelli told Stats Perform. 

"He always sends a strong message to Juventus fans, the true DNA of Juventus of never giving up like it says in the motto: 'Till the end'."

 

Alexander Isak (Sweden and Real Sociedad)

Whisper it quietly, but Sweden may have a new superstar forward emerging to rival the legendary figure of Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Isak's 17 strikes in 34 league appearances for Real Sociedad last season saw him become the Swede with the most goals in a single LaLiga campaign, surpassing Ibrahimovic's 16 for Barcelona in 2009-10.

He may be tall and blessed with great technical ability, but Isak is a lot different to Ibrahimovic – ruled out of Euro 2020 with a knee injury – in terms of his playing style.

And with clubs such as Barcelona and Manchester City reportedly keeping a close eye on the 21-year-old, it may well be one day that other youngsters from the Scandinavian country are described as 'the next Isak'.

 

Unai Simon (Spain and Athletic Bilbao)

Luis Enrique has not shied away from putting his faith in youth at the expense of those who have been there and done it, with veteran centre-back Sergio Ramos arguably the most high-profile omission from any squad at Euro 2020.

That is also true between the sticks, where 23-year-old Athletic Bilbao stopper Simon has usurped David de Gea to take control of the number-one spot.

Unlike Manchester United keeper De Gea and Chelsea's Kepa Arrizabalaga, who has not made the cut for Spain, Simon played regularly for his club side in 2020-21.

Indeed, the only Spanish goalkeepers to play more minutes last term in Europe's top five leagues than Simon (3,330) were Alex Remiro and Fernando Pacheco of Real Sociedad and Deportivo Alaves respectively.

Simon saved 63.3 per cent of the shots he faced in LaLiga in 2020-21, compared to 65.22 per cent for De Gea in 26 Premier League games, and the six-cap keeper will need to be at his best if Spain are to banish their demons from the 2018 World Cup.

 

Jamal Musiala (Germany and Bayern Munich)

Musiala switched international allegiance from England to Germany four months ago in the same week he became Bayern's youngest Champions League goalscorer at the age of 17 years and 363 days.

Despite strong competition for places, Musiala featured regularly for the German champions last season with 35 appearances in all competitions, albeit the majority of those outings being as a substitute.

The former Chelsea product made his first two appearances for Germany in March's World Cup qualifiers and only adds to a plethora of options available to Joachim Low in the final third.

Musiala may not be considered a regular just yet, but the stats suggest Low should perhaps consider using the youngster from the beginning of games.

Bayern's win rate increased from 62.5 per cent without Musiala in their side in the Bundesliga last term to 73.1 per cent with him, while their average goals for climbed from 2.5 to 3.0, and their passing accuracy in the final third went from 72.4 to 74.1.

Not so much a lucky omen, but a player who is clearly already good enough to make a telling impact on even the biggest sides.

 

Marcus Thuram (France and Borussia Monchengladbach)

No nation boasts a collection of forwards quite like France, who can call upon Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele, Wissam Ben Yedder, Thomas Lemar, Kingsley Coman, Olivier Giroud and the returning Karim Benzema.

What chance does Borussia Monchengladbach forward Thuram have, then, of ousting any of those players from the side?

While the 23-year-old may not be used as a regular starter, he will provide an intriguing option for spoiled-for-choice head coach Didier Deschamps to choose from off the bench for group games against Germany, Portugal and Hungary.

Thuram, the son of World Cup winner Lilian, certainly knows how to make the most of his minutes on the field and has the ability to score via a range of different ways.

All eight of his Bundesliga goals last term were scored inside the box, but they were shared between his right foot (three), left foot (two), head (two) and other means (one).

In fact, he was one of just nine forwards to start 20 games or fewer in Europe's top five leagues last season and still score more than once with his right foot.

 

Aleksandr Golovin (Russia and Monaco)

Monaco midfielder Golovin was plagued by injuries and illness in 2020-21 but still played a starring role in Monaco's unlikely Ligue 1 title bid that went down to the final game.

The 25-year-old found the net five times and set up nine more in 21 appearances, three of those goals coming in one game against Nimes in early February.

That made Golovin the first Russian to score a hat-trick in Europe's top five leagues since ex-Fulham striker Pavel Pogrebnyak in 2012.

He is undoubtedly the key creative talent in the Russia squad and, in a group that contains a defensively-strong Denmark and Belgium, plus Finland, it will likely be the Monaco man that holds the key to his side's hopes of progression.

His effectiveness with set-piece deliveries could be particularly vital.

 

 

Yusuf Yazici (Turkey and Lille)

Lille's incredible Ligue 1 triumph was down to a collective effort, but a few players certainly stood out for the shock title winners.

Look no further than breakthrough star Yazici, whose return of a goal every 153.71 minutes was the fourth best of any midfielder with at least five goals in Europe's top five leagues in 2020-21, trailing just Joe Willock, Lars Stindl and Musiala.

The 24-year-old scored seven league goals in total and netted the same amount in the Europa League, where Lille made it to the knockout stages before being eliminated by Ajax.

That includes a couple of three-goal hauls in the group stage as he became the first player to score an away hat-trick against Milan in all competitions since Rivaldo in October 2000 for Barcelona.

With experience of scoring in big matches and winning silverware with rank outsiders, Yazici will now be looking to guide many people's dark horses Turkey deep into Euro 2020.

 

Ryan Gravenberch (Netherlands and Ajax)

A member of the Netherlands' Under-17s European Championship-winning squad in 2018, Gravenberch has gone from strength to strength in the three years since and is now a regular in Ajax's central midfield.

Gravenberch also has two Eredivisie titles and two Dutch Cups to his name to go with that age-grade continental triumph, all before he even turned 19 last month.

The teenage talent, another product of Ajax's fabled academy, made his senior international debut earlier this year and has a chance of starting – or at least playing a prominent part in – the Oranje's quest for a second European Championship crown.

If nothing else, Gravenberch will certainly bring a level of calmness to the Dutch midfield.

He had a pass accuracy rate of 87.21 per cent in the Eredivisie last season – the only midfielders younger in Europe's top five leagues to play 20 or more times with a better return were Pedri (87.66) and Lucas Gourna-Douath (87.29). 

The year-long delay to Euro 2020 has shifted the narrative for a host of stars, and meant the long wait for a return to the big stage has been extended for others.

Now, though, Europe's elite are set to battle it out as Portugal defend the title they won in France five years ago.

Some players enter the competition in great form and with little baggage, but for others this month-long tournament is a chance to make a big splash, or live up to long-held expectations.

Here, Stats Perform looks at two famous footballing nations, four big-name stars and a coach who bows out of his current job and may have designs on his next assignment.

Gareth Bale: Finished or a new beginning?

The wing wizard can do little wrong in the eyes of Wales and Tottenham supporters, and perhaps now there is a glimmer of hope for his Real Madrid career.

At the end of a season-long loan at Spurs, it seemed likely Bale would head back to Madrid and spend the final year of his contract largely on the sidelines. His future looked to be one of training, playing the odd Copa del Rey game and making fleeting LaLiga appearances, and spending his happiest hours on the region's best golf courses.

Now that Zinedine Zidane has moved on, that could change all of a sudden, and Bale has an immediate chance to make an impression on new Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti when he captains Wales at the Euros.

Bale joined Madrid in 2013, when Ancelotti was embarking on his first spell at the Santiago Bernabeu, but his career in Spain looked to have all but conked out 12 months ago.

The door certainly seems open for the 31-year-old to do just that as, in his presentation news conference at Madrid, Ancelotti said: "Gareth has not played much in the Premier League [in 2020-21], but he scored lots of goals, and was very effective in recent games when he had a chance to play.

"He is coming back, I know him very well, he will be motivated to play better and have a great season, no doubt."

At Spurs, he scored 16 goals across all competitions at an average of one every 104.44 minutes, and his match fitness appeared to be building up nicely when the season ended.

Bale exceeded his expected goals (xG) total of 11.07 quite handsomely, and for the first time since the 2015-16 season he scored more goals than he had big chances.

He had 15 such chances, defined by Opta as situations "where a player should reasonably be expected to score".

Bale is said by some observers to be considering retiring after Euro 2020, but that could be a waste of a still-luminous talent and Ancelotti is sure to be closely watching.

Eden Hazard: Brilliant Belgian has been a Real disappointment

So often sparkling for Belgium and Chelsea in the past, Hazard has left Madrid supporters wondering what has happened to that fizz since he landed in Spain.

He started just seven games in LaLiga in the season just ended, a string of muscle injuries and a spell out with COVID-19 ruining his campaign.

When fit enough to feature, the forward's numbers have been way down on those that he produced – to take a pertinent example – during Belgium's Euro 2020 qualifying campaign.

A fair way of assessing his figures is to look at how Hazard contributes for every 90 minutes he is involved with club and country, and the comparison between his displays in Belgium's run to reach this tournament and in 2020-21 at Madrid shows an alarming dip.

His chances created total per 90 minutes falls from 4.6 to 1.0, his number of touches of the ball slides from 95.1 to 73.8, and his dribbles attempted plummet from 7.4 with Belgium to 4.2 in Madrid's season.

His involvements in shot-ending sequences of play fall from 10.8 to 4.9 per 90 minutes, and analysis of goal-ending sequences shows his contribution drops from 1.9 with Belgium to 0.8 per 90 minutes with Madrid.

It bears remembering that Hazard has not had the run of games that would give him full match fitness. If Real Madrid fans want any succour, they can find it in his Belgium statistics and must hope the coming month sees the 30-year-old roll back his form a couple of years.

A fit and firing Hazard would be a huge asset to Ancelotti, who is expecting the former Chelsea star to have an impact next term.

"Hazard is a top player, he has had injury problems, and not shown his top potential yet here," Ancelotti said. "I believe he can do that next year, he wants to, is motivated."

 

Karim Benzema: Have France really missed him?

Nobody doubts Benzema's ability or his current form. Firing 23 goals for Real Madrid in LaLiga showed he is coming into Euro 2020 in great shape.

The thing is: few expected him to play any part in this tournament.

Off-field matters and an impending court case have seen Benzema frozen out by France, the 33-year-old sidelined from international duty since 2015 following allegations he had a part in a plot to blackmail former Les Bleus player Mathieu Valbuena.

Benzema strenuously denies any wrongdoing and for the duration of Euro 2020 he will aim to show what France have been missing in his absence. They managed to win the 2018 World Cup without him, and reach the final of Euro 2016, yet coach Didier Deschamps has decided his team need Benzema's presence for the coming month.

It could be a masterstroke or could go disastrously wrong, with France a national team who have combusted before during a big tournament.

Benzema last year made the snippy remark that Olivier Giroud was a go-kart and he, by contrast, was a Formula One car, but now they are rivals for selection.

Squad harmony is vital at any major championship, and Benzema's presence brings that little extra frisson. This gamble could go either way. Watching him and France will be fascinating.

Marcus Rashford: Making his pitch for a better England

Manchester United striker Rashford has been a pandemic social justice warrior, emerging as an inspirational figure as he battled for school children to avoid food poverty.

There is so much to admire about the 23-year-old Mancunian, who has also faced – and faced down – appalling racism on social media.

It would take a cold, cruel heart to begrudge Rashford a major moment on the pitch now, and that could come with England over the coming weeks.

On the international scene since just before Euro 2016, Rashford is now fixtures-and-fittings within the Three Lions set-up, but he has still yet to score at a World Cup or European Championship.

Before June's pre-Euros friendlies he had 40 caps and 11 goals and will want to improve his so-so goals-to-games ratio, which is partly explained by the fact only 20 of those caps came as a starter.

Golden Boot winner Harry Kane carried so much of the scoring burden for England at the last World Cup, and sometimes it takes two. Rashford scored three times in Euro 2020 qualifying and is coming off a 21-goal campaign with United, scoring on average once every 197.76 minutes.

The man who is effecting positive change in the way many live their lives, influencing politicians and shaping a better future for millions, could now do his country a massive favour on the football field.

 

Scotland: They're back, thanks to Mourinho's former right-hand man

Few in the Scotland team are long enough in the teeth to remember the last time the Tartan Army descended on a major tournament.

It was 1998, with the Scots giving Brazil a major test in the opening game at the Stade de France. A draw followed against Norway followed the 2-1 loss to the Selecao, before a dismal defeat to Morocco meant the campaign ended in crushing disappointment.

Hopes have flickered and foundered in the decades since, but Steve Clarke, once an assistant boss to Jose Mourinho at Chelsea, has led his team back to the big time.

With the likes of Andy Robertson, Scott McTominay and Che Adams, they possess Premier League quality, and two games Hampden promise to be nourishing for the soul.

Scotland is an expectant nation. That tends to end in intense disappointment at major tournaments, but optimism abounds as the games approach, the June 18 clash with England at Wembley ringed in the diary.

Italy: Blue skies again for Azzurri

It felt absurd that Italy should be absent from the 2018 World Cup, but they failed the meritocracy test of qualification when losing a play-off to Sweden.

That meant they were absent from football's great global gathering for the first time since 1958, and coach Gian Piero Ventura was swiftly given the heave-ho.

Enter Roberto Mancini, the former Inter and Manchester City boss who has led a scorching revival of the Azzurri, a team who won all 10 of their qualifiers and headed into June on a 26-game unbeaten run.

Wales, Turkey and Switzerland are the group-stage opposition for Italy, and the Turkey game in Istanbul gets the tournament underway.

They are a team perhaps without a superstar, but as Paolo Rossi and Toto Schillaci would attest, iconic Italian figures can emerge on the big stage.

Joachim Low: Hit for six, Germany go back to the future

After 15 years, Low will step down as Germany head coach following these finals. Many in Germany think he should have stepped aside already, but Low has powerful support within the DFB, the national federation.

A 6-0 defeat to Spain in the Nations League last November felt like an appalling nadir, with Germany outshot 23-2 in Seville and having just 30 per cent of possession.

Something had to change and it has, with Low summoning Thomas Muller and Mats Hummels out of the international exile he harshly imposed on the experienced pair over two years ago.

Low felt he could do without their talents but it proved a major misstep, and for Germany's sake they are back. What Low does next remains to be seen, but a strong Euro 2020 campaign with Germany would bolster his chances of landing any elite club job.

The 61-year-old was a World Cup winner seven years ago, but the most immediately telling part of his legacy will be written during this European summer.

The Dominican Republic followed up their win against Korea yesterday with a victory against Poland at the Volleyball Nation’s League in Italy.

Roberto Mancini has included Sassuolo forward Giacomo Raspadori in Italy's final 26-man squad for Euro 2020.

Raspadori is a surprise selection considering he is yet to make his debut for the national team and has only played 39 games in Serie A.

The 21-year-old did make 27 league appearances in the 2020-21 campaign but only 13 of those were starts, scoring six goals as Sassuolo finished eighth.

All of his goals came since the turn of the year, though, including finding the net against Milan in April and then also Juventus the following month.

He was part of Italy’s squad that was knocked out of the European Under-21 Championship on Monday, losing 5-3 after extra time against Portugal in an eventful quarter-final tie.

As well as Raspadori, Mancini also found a spot for Atalanta defender Rafael Toloi, though his club colleague Matteo Pessina failed to make the final cut.

There is no place for Matteo Politano either, while Roma defender Gianluca Mancini misses out.

Italy face the Czech Republic on Friday in their final friendly before the tournament, which was postponed last year due to the ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Azzurri will then go up against Turkey in their opening game on June 16, with Switzerland their next opponents four days later. They round out the group stage by taking on Wales on June 20, with all of those fixtures taking place in Rome.


Italy squad for Euro 2020:

Gianluigi Donnarumma (Milan), Alex Meret (Napoli), Salvatore Sirigu (Torino); Francesco Acerbi (Lazio), Alessandro Bastoni (Inter), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Giovanni Di Lorenzo (Napoli), Emerson Palmieri (Chelsea), Alessandro Florenzi (Paris Saint-Germain), Leonardo Spinazzola (Roma), Rafael Toloi (Atalanta); Nicolo Barella (Inter), Bryan Cristante (Roma), Jorginho (Chelsea), Manuel Locatelli (Sassuolo), Lorenzo Pellegrini (Roma), Stefano Sensi (Inter), Marco Verratti (Paris); Andrea Belotti (Torino), Domenico Berardi (Sassuolo), Federico Bernardeschi (Juventus), Federico Chiesa (Juventus), Ciro Immobile (Lazio), Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli), Giacomo Raspadori (Sassuolo)

The Dominican Republic women’s team suffered their third defeat earlier today in the preliminary round of the Volleyball Nation’s League in Italy.

Roberto Mancini dropped Moise Kean from his Euro 2020 plans as the Italy head coach trimmed his finals squad to 28 - with two more players poised to be culled.

Ahead of UEFA's deadline of midnight on June 1, Mancini thinned out the large pool of players he selected on May 17 for the international friendly against San Marino.

Italy won that match 7-0 on Friday, and Mancini has been assessing his squad over the last week, with a view to finding the right players for the upcoming tournament.

He settled on 21-year-old striker Kean as one who would miss out, also releasing Cagliari goalkeeper Alessio Cragno, Fiorentina left-back Cristiano Biraghi, Lazio's versatile right-sided player Manuel Lazzari, Fiorentina midfielder Gaetano Castrovilli, Freiburg forward Vincenzo Grifo and Sassuolo frontman Giacomo Raspadori.

Kean loses his place despite scoring 19 goals in 45 games in the season just ended, including two for Everton and 17 in 41 appearances for Paris Saint-Germain, whom he joined on loan in October.

"The choice to reach 26 on the squad list is the most difficult thing for me," Mancini said on Rai 3 on Sunday.

He said the cuts so far had caused him plenty of unease.

"And even more so for the other two I will have to exclude for the final list," Mancini said. "Everyone deserved to be there."

Mancini, who recently signed a contract keeping with the Azzurri until 2026, knows Italy may not be widely considered in the top bracket of likely champions.

"There are national teams who on paper are ahead of us, like France, Portugal, Belgium and England," said the former Inter boss. "But I believe that Italy must go and try to get to the end."

Italy will open their Group A campaign against Turkey in Rome on June 11 before facing Switzerland (June 16) and Wales (June 20).


Italy 28-man squad, to be reduced by two for Euro 2020:

Gianluigi Donnarumma (Milan), Alex Meret (Napoli), Salvatore Sirigu (Torino); Francesco Acerbi (Lazio), Alessandro Bastoni (Inter), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Giovanni Di Lorenzo (Napoli), Emerson Palmieri (Chelsea), Alessandro Florenzi (Paris Saint-Germain), Gianluca Mancini (Roma), Leonardo Spinazzola (Roma), Rafael Toloi (Atalanta); Nicolo Barella (Inter), Bryan Cristante (Roma), Jorginho (Chelsea), Manuel Locatelli (Sassuolo), Lorenzo Pellegrini (Roma), Matteo Pessina (Atalanta), Stefano Sensi (Inter), Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain); Andrea Belotti (Torino), Domenico Berardi (Sassuolo), Federico Bernardeschi (Juventus), Federico Chiesa (Juventus), Ciro Immobile (Lazio), Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli), Matteo Politano (Napoli).

Italy started their preparations for Euro 2020 with an emphatic 7-0 friendly win over San Marino at the Sardegna Arena on Friday. 

Despite a slow start, Roberto Mancini's side went in at the interval two goals up courtesy of strikes from Federico Bernardeschi – the Juventus man's sixth international goal – and Gian Marco Ferrari.  

Matteo Politano and Matteo Pessina added braces after the break, while Andrea Belotti was also on target as Italy brushed aside their neighbours with the minimum of fuss.

The result marked the Azzurri's seventh consecutive win without conceding a goal. 

Italy struggled in the early stages against their less illustrious opponents, with only Gianluca Mancini and Bernardeschi registering efforts on target inside the opening half hour. 

They went ahead after 31 minutes, however, when Bernardeschi's low strike from 20 yards proved too powerful for San Marino goalkeeper Elia Benedettini. 

Sassuolo defender Ferrari, who scored on his only other appearance for Italy against San Marino in 2017, doubled their advantage three minutes later, volleying home after Benedettini had failed to clear a corner. 

Half-time substitute Politano wasted little time making his mark on the game, sliding in his third international goal in the 49th minute after a mix-up in the San Marino defence. 

Belotti added a fourth after 67 minutes, the Torino striker latching onto Bernardeschi's pass and firing past Benedettini from eight yards. 

Pessina stroked home a fifth in the 75th minute after Gaetano Castrovilli had struck the post from outside the penalty area, while Politano added his second two minutes later with a fine volley from 12 yards.

Atalanta midfielder Pessina then rounded off the scoring four minutes from full-time with a poked finish from a tight angle.

Davide Calabria should be fit to return for next season after undergoing surgery on a sports hernia, Milan have confirmed.

The full-back has not been included in Italy's provisional squad for Euro 2020, so his season was already over after helping Milan qualify for the Champions League with a 2-0 win over Atalanta on Sunday.

Calabria played 36 times across all competitions for Milan in 2020-21, scoring twice and providing one assist from 26 chances created, while also helping Stefano Pioli's team keep 11 clean sheets.

The 24-year-old may well feel hard done by to have missed out on Roberto Mancini's 33-man selection, which will be cut to 26 by the deadline of midnight on June 1.

His numbers stack up well when compared to the three right-backs included in Mancini's squad – Alessandro Florenzi, Giovanni Di Lorenzo and Manuel Lazzari.

Napoli's Di Lorenzo is the be standout option from an attacking perspective, having scored four goals and teed up a further seven in all competitions, with his 62 chances created far better than the efforts Calabria, Florenzi or Lazzari (both 28).

Defensively, however, Calabria seems to the outstanding candidate. He attempted 105 tackles, 10 more than Di Lorenzo and far ahead of Florenzi (38), who spent the season on loan at Paris Saint-Germain, and Lazio wing-back Lazzari (29), with an impressive 61.9 per cent success rate. 

Calabria went into 333 duels, winning 200 – more than either Florenzi or Lazzari – and he won 32 of his 62 aerial battles, with Di Lorenzo bettering the Milan man for interceptions (47, compared to 41).

He did attempt fewer open-play crosses (78) than any of his counterparts, with only 21 of them finding a team-mate, although Calabria's tally of 130 passes into the final third was second only to Di Lorenzo (153).

Nevertheless, Calabria's focus will now be on Milan's 2021-22 campaign, with the club confirming a planned recovery time of six weeks.

A Milan statement read: "The operation, performed by videolaparoscopy by Dr Giuseppe Sansonetti in the presence of Rossoneri doctor Lucio Genesio, was perfectly successful."

Sassuolo forward Giacomo Raspadori is in line for an Italy debut after Roberto Mancini named him in an initial 33-man squad ahead of Euro 2020.

On the day Mancini extended his contract until after the 2026 World Cup, the Azzurri head coach confirmed a first group to face San Marino in a May 28 friendly.

Italy have to trim that selection to 26 men for the rescheduled European Championship finals, with a second warm-up fixture following against the Czech Republic on June 4.

Raspadori will hope he can impress Mancini in order to play a part having come to the fore for Sassuolo since the March international break.

The 21-year-old had a goal and an assist across just 110 minutes in the European Under-21 Championship group stage during that period, having only made his Italy U21 bow in September.

Raspadori has since scored five goals in nine Serie A games for Sassuolo, netting with 31.3 per cent of his shots at a rate of one every 127 minutes. He had only a single goal in 18 league matches prior to this run.

The forward joins the usual established Azzurri stars, including Marco Verratti, Ciro Immobile and Leonardo Bonucci.


Italy squad in full:

Alessio Cragno (Cagliari), Gianluigi Donnarumma (Milan), Alex Meret (Napoli), Salvatore Sirigu (Torino); Francesco Acerbi (Lazio), Alessandro Bastoni (Inter), Cristiano Biraghi (Fiorentina), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Giovanni Di Lorenzo (Napoli), Alessandro Florenzi (Paris Saint-Germain), Manuel Lazzari (Lazio), Gianluca Mancini (Roma), Leonardo Spinazzola (Roma), Rafael Toloi (Atalanta); Nicolo Barella (Inter), Gaetano Castrovilli (Fiorentina), Bryan Cristante (Roma), Manuel Locatelli (Sassuolo), Lorenzo Pellegrini (Roma), Matteo Pessina (Atalanta), Stefano Sensi (Inter), Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain); Andrea Belotti (Torino), Domenico Berardi (Sassuolo), Federico Bernardeschi (Juventus), Federico Chiesa (Juventus), Vincenzo Grifo (Freiburg), Ciro Immobile (Lazio), Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli), Moise Kean (Paris Saint-Germain), Matteo Politano (Napoli), Giacomo Raspadori (Sassuolo).

Roberto Mancini has been given a significant vote of confidence by the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) after signing a new contract that will keep him in charge of Italy until after the 2026 World Cup.

Mancini was appointed in May 2018, taking over from caretaker manager Luigi Di Biagio after he had replaced Gian Piero Ventura the previous November.

Ventura had failed to guide Italy to the 2018 World Cup, the Azzurri losing out to Sweden in a play-off.

It was the first World Cup Italy had missed since 1958 and forced the FIGC into a serious rethink before turning to Mancini, one of the nation's most-respected coaches.

He was initially appointed only until 2020, with an automatic extension to be granted upon qualification for Euro 2020, which Italy duly achieved with three matches to spare.

That triggered a two-year extension to run until after the 2022 World Cup, but the FIGC is seemingly so impressed with Mancini that they have deemed him worthy of a long-term deal.

Speaking at the end of the FIGC's federal council meeting, president Gabriele Gravina is quoted by ANSA as saying: "It is an investment of the federation for the future, and one that we owed to the fans.

"I am very happy, because as Roberto knows, it was an objective of the federation to continue this job and give it continuity in the future."

Mancini, who was also in attendance, added: "I am very happy, I thank the Federation and I thank the president.

"We have extended the contract, there will be many events and as the president said it is not easy to win, but we are trying to carry out a job that was started three years ago, which up to now has given good results.

"We have many young players to focus on, especially in the youth national teams, so our hope is that this work can bear fruit very quickly, we are very positive."

Mancini's Italy broke a longstanding national team record in November 2019 as they won 10 consecutive matches with a 3-0 result against Bosnia-Herzegovina, the streak eventually ending at 11.

They won all of their Euro 2020 qualifiers and their 10 victories in 2019 set a new record for the most wins in a calendar year for the national team.

Italy were drawn into Group A for the Euros, which start next month, meaning they will face Turkey, Wales and Switzerland for the right to reach the knockout phase.

Gianluigi Buffon has called time on his second spell at Juventus, concluding a defining playing association with the Serie A giants.

There may only be three clubs on the goalkeeping great's resume but sustained excellence over more than two decades has filled his trophy cabinet with individual and team honours. 

The former Parma prodigy has rubbed shoulders with the very best in world football throughout that time, forming part of Serie A, Ligue 1 and World Cup-winning sides.

In honour of Buffon's stellar career, we have compiled a star-studded group of former team-mates for a dream XI.

 

GOALKEEPER: GIANLUIGI BUFFON

Who else has the pedigree to don the gloves in such a side?

A five-time member of the UEFA Team of the Year, he boasts more Serie A clean sheets than any other player and, as captain of his country from 2010 until his retirement in 2018, would have no trouble bringing this team together.

RIGHT-BACK: LILIAN THURAM

Having been joined by Buffon at Parma after his switch from Monaco in 1996, Thuram followed his team-mate in making the move to Turin ahead of the 2001-02 campaign.

The 142-time France international, part of the side that tasted glory at the 1998 World Cup on home soil and won Euro 2000, spent five seasons at Juve before rounding out his career with a spell at Barcelona.

CENTRE-BACK: FABIO CANNAVARO

Buffon's inheritance of the Italy armband from Cannavaro in 2010 completed the striking symmetry of their careers.

They both made their Parma debuts in 1995, did the same for Italy in 1997 and were reunited at club level when Cannavaro, one of few defenders to win the Ballon d'Or, joined Juve in 2004. They also lifted the World Cup together in 2006.

CENTRE-BACK: ALESSANDRO NESTA

A long-time rival at club level, Nesta was part of the famous Milan defence that beat Juve in the 2002-03 Champions League final – he scored his penalty against Buffon in a 3-2 shoot-out victory – and triumphed again four seasons later.

He was named in the Team of the Tournament at Euro 2000, which Buffon missed through injury, but the 2006 World Cup success will undoubtedly be the highlight of his career.

LEFT-BACK: PAOLO MALDINI

With admirable longevity, loyalty and leadership, classy defender Maldini set the path that Buffon has so impressively followed.

The long-time Rossoneri skipper, a seven-time Scudetto winner who also lifted the European Cup on five occasions, Maldini was the only player to have managed more Serie A appearances than the veteran keeper until his Juve return.

CENTRAL MIDFIELD: ANDREA PIRLO

Has there been a more iconic duo of the modern era?

Pirlo was already at the top by the time he swapped Milan for Juve, but he saved plenty of his play-making brilliance for Buffon and friends as the Bianconeri re-asserted themselves as Italy's top club with a run of successive Scudetti that stretched to nine before being ended by Inter this season as their reunion as player and head coach did not yield similar results.

CENTRAL MIDFIELD: PAVEL NEDVED

Nedved's blend of athleticism, tenacity and well-rounded technical ability made him close to the complete midfielder.

He helped Czech Republic to the final of Euro 1996 and his value to Juve was summed up by a Ballon d'Or victory in 2003.

ATTACKING MIDFIELD: ROBERTO BAGGIO

Less than two years after a 17-year-old Buffon held Baggio and Milan scoreless on his senior debut for Parma, the pair were sharing the same shirt for Italy.

Two of the Azzurri's greatest were in the same squad at the 1998 World Cup, although Buffon would ultimately go one better than the 1993 Ballon d'Or winner, who suffered final heartache against Brazil at USA 94.

ATTACKING MIDFIELD: ALESSANDRO DEL PIERO

He stands as an equal in the pantheon of Juve luminaries.

Buffon and the majestic Del Piero combined to help the Bianconeri finish top of Serie A on five occasions, while they lined up for Italy together for over a decade and experienced World Cup glory together

FORWARD: CRISTIANO RONALDO

Ronaldo joined Juve as Buffon embarked upon his hiatus with Paris Saint-Germain. The five-time Ballon d'Or winner was supposed to add Champions League glory to domestic dominance and now Juventus have neither.

Nevertheless, Ronaldo's individual form has remained imperious. In 127 appearances for the Bianconceri, he has 97 goals at a rate of a goal every 113 minutes.

FORWARD: KYLIAN MBAPPE

They were only together for a year but the France phenomenon is a performer to compare with many of the greats to have shared a dressing room with Buffon.

Fresh from 2018 World Cup success with France, Mbappe scored 39 goals in 43 appearances for PSG in 2018-19, averaging 90.25 minutes per goal and boasting a shot conversion rate of 22 per cent.

Gianluigi Buffon has confirmed he will leave Juventus but the Italy great says he might not be ready to retire.

The 43-year-old returned to Juve in 2019 following a season away at Paris Saint-Germain and has been second choice to Wojciech Szczesny since.

Buffon's announcement on Tuesday arguably did not come as a surprise; however, the fact he is still contemplating playing on may have raised some eyebrows.

If he does continue his playing career, whoever his next employers are will certainly be able to count on plenty of experience and knowhow.

Buffon is one of the sport's few stars who have played top-level football into their fifth decade.

Here are seven other legends who set an example for Buffon to follow with their remarkably long careers in the game.

 

RYAN GIGGS

The ultimate one-club man, Ryan Giggs stayed at Manchester United for the entirety of his glittering career. He managed to slowly transform himself from a rapid, tricky winger into a cultured central midfielder in the latter years of his playing days, helping to extend his time on the pitch beyond the age of 40. Giggs won an extraordinary haul of medals at Old Trafford, including 13 Premier League titles, four FA Cups and a pair of Champions League crowns. He played in 632 Premier League games, scoring 109 goals, with only Gareth Barry topping his appearance tally. Giggs worked as Louis van Gaal's assistant at United, having taken charge on an interim basis following the sacking of David Moyes, before going on to take charge of his country in 2018. He has been temporarily replaced as Wales boss after he was charged with assaulting two women last year, allegations that Giggs denies.

PAOLO MALDINI

Paolo Maldini was still going strong for Milan beyond his 40th birthday and, like Giggs, he only ever played for one club. Seven league titles and an incredible five European Cup/Champions League wins headline a litany of honours that Maldini helped marshal at San Siro, playing across their near impenetrable back four for almost 25 years. Maldini, son of another Milan legend, Cesare, is one of a select group of players who made over 1,000 appearances in all competitions during their career. Today, the former Italy man is back at Milan, acting as their technical director.

KAZUYOSHI MIURA

Kazuyoshi Miura is still playing, at the age of 54. That the Japanese striker made his debut almost 10 years before Buffon begins to tell part of his incredible tale. Known as King Kazu, Miura plays for Yokohama FC in Japan's top flight, becoming the club's oldest ever player at 53 in September last year. The oldest player and goalscorer in the history of global professional football, Miura is regarded as one of the finest Asian players never to have featured at a World Cup, although he made 89 appearances for his country.

 

STANLEY MATTHEWS

Before Miura snatched them off him, Stanley Matthews held the records for being both the oldest professional footballer and the oldest goalscorer in the game. Matthews - the Wizard of Dribble - made nearly 700 league appearances for Stoke City and Blackpool in a career that spanned three decades. The 1953 FA Cup final is regarded as the Matthews Final, even though Blackpool's Stan Mortensen scored a hat-trick. Matthews won the first European Footballer of the Year award, while he was officially capped for England 54 times, although he also played a host of unofficial wartime games for his country.

DINO ZOFF

Goalkeepers often play deep into their thirties, but not many captain their country to World Cup glory at the age of 40. But that is exactly what Dino Zoff did at the World Cup in 1982. He made 40 appearances in World Cup finals and qualifiers in total, while as a coach he led Italy to the final of Euro 2000. It must be something about Juventus, as Buffon's current club is also where Zoff spent the best years of his career, winning six Serie A titles.

RIVALDO

Best known for his spell at Barcelona in club football, Brazil great Rivaldo was still playing beyond his 40th birthday, albeit only briefly. Rivaldo came out of retirement to sign for Mogi Mirim, the club where his son Rivaldinho was also on the books. Rivaldo picked up two LaLiga titles at Barcelona before continuing his European adventure with Milan, winning the 2002–03 Champions League with the Rossoneri. But it is as a Brazil international that Rivaldo is best remembered, having been a key part of the side that won the World Cup in 2002.

 

ROGER MILLA

Roger Milla became the World Cup's oldest scorer when he hit the net for Cameroon in 1994 at the age of 42, having announced himself at the same tournament four years previously with his famous corner-flag dance. Milla's four goals at the 1990 World Cup helped Cameroon to reach the quarter-finals of the tournament and he is fondly regarded as one of Africa's greatest ever players. Remarkably, Milla regained the African Footballer of the Year title 14 years after he first won the award.

Leonardo Bonucci has joined Juventus team-mate Merih Demiral in testing positive for coronavirus, the Serie A giants have confirmed.

The 33-year-old returned from international duty with Italy on Thursday, a day after the Italian Football Federation announced four members of staff had also returned positive tests.

Bonucci will now begin a period of self-isolation that could keep him out of Serie A games with Torino, Napoli and Genoa over the next 10 days.

A statement on Juventus' official website on Thursday read: "Leonardo Bonucci, upon returning from the Italian national team, this morning underwent a diagnostic molecular test for COVID-19 which came back positive. 

"The player has already been placed in home isolation."

Juve confirmed earlier on Thursday that fellow defender Merih Demiral tested positive for COVID-19 on March 26 while away on international duty with Turkey.

Demiral was granted permission to return to Italy on a specially arranged flight and is isolating at the club's J Hotel.

According to reports from Italy, meanwhile, Juve intend to fine a trio of players for breaching coronavirus restrictions by attending a party.

Roberto Mancini has set his sights on World Cup glory with Italy, though his first aim may well be to push for enlarged squads at Euro 2020.

Italy made it three wins from three to start their World Cup 2022 qualification campaign by seeing off Lithuania by the now familiar scoreline of 2-0. 

Goals from Stefano Sensi and Ciro Immobile bookended the second half on Wednesday, as Italy took a three-point lead in Group C.

The Azzurri have won their last five matches 2-0, and are unbeaten in 25 games under Mancini, which brings him level with Marcelo Lippi's best haul – only Vittorio Pozzo (30) has managed a better such streak.

Lippi guided Italy to a 2006 World Cup success, and Mancini did not shy away from wanting to emulate one of his predecessors.

"I'm happy we are top of the group, it's pleasing, but records are standalone issues compared to real results," he told reporters.

"I hope to match Lippi at the World Cup, maybe in December 2022."

With three qualifying wins under their belt, Italy's focus will now switch to the upcoming Euros, rearranged from last year.

Mancini picked a 38-man squad for this latest round of internationals, and suggested it would be prudent for UEFA to accommodate larger squads than the usual 23 at this year's tournament. 

"I think it could be a good idea to be able to name bigger squads for Euro 2020," Mancini said.

"I think it could be the right thing to do. The problem would above all be if a couple of players had problems in the tournament, as it's difficult to call them back after that, when players are on vacation."

Italy recorded 29 shots against Lithuania, with 11 of them on target – the excellent Tomas Svedkauskas pulling off nine saves.

Immobile, who scored from the spot with the last kick of the game, was particularly wasteful, sending a close-range header wide after seeing two efforts saved by Svedkauskas.

The 31-year-old Lazio forward has scored eight goals in World Cup qualifiers, the joint-third most in Italy's history – along with Daniele De Rossi – and Mancini believes fatigue played a big part in Immobile's profligate display.

"Ciro gave everything he could today," Mancini added. "The players aren't in the best shape right now, they are lacking sharpness, but the goals will come more consistently for him."

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