Roberto Mancini is the mastermind behind Italy's transformation and Christian Vieri believes the Azzurri will be in the mix to win Euro 2020.

Italy are among the contenders at the rescheduled European Championship – delayed a year due to the coronavirus pandemic – as the 1968 winners prepare to face Turkey in the tournament's curtain-raiser in Rome on Friday.

A proud football country but a national team on its knees after failing to qualify for Russia 2018, their first World Cup absence since 1958, Mancini has overseen a drastic recovery following his appointment more than three years ago.

Banishing the nightmares of Gian Piero Ventura's dismal tenure, Italy are in the midst of a 27-game unbeaten streak – a run dating back to September 10, 2018. Heading into Euro 2020, Mancini's men have won eight successive games in all competitions without conceding a goal for the first time in their history.

Italy were one of only two teams – alongside Belgium – to win 100 per cent of their games during the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign (10/10). The Azzurri scored 37 goals in their 10 qualification matches (3.7 per game) – this was the same tally in qualification for Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup combined (37 goals in 22 games).

As Italy gear up for their Euro 2020 Group A opener at the Stadio Olimpico, where they have never lost in a major tournament – they have won six and drawn two in the World Cup and European Championship combined, having not conceded a goal in each of the last seven fixtures – Azzurri great hailed the impact of Mancini.

"Mancini is one of my best friends," former Inter, Milan and Juventus striker Vieri, who earned 49 caps for Italy from 1997 to 2005, told Stats Perform.

"He did an amazing, amazing job. Getting the Italian team back together and getting all the fans in Italy to watch again because no one was watching.

"They have big players, big quality players – real quality like what we used to have 10-15 years ago. We had a situation for 10-15 years after the 2006 World Cup, we didn't have any big players. That's how it is sometimes, you don't have big players coming up.

"Now we have big players, we have experienced players. They play fantastic football and haven't lost for so many games, but they are really, really strong."

This is Mancini's first major tournament as Italy head coach. As a player, he only featured at one major final: he played four games at Euro 88, scoring the opening goal of the whole tournament during a 1-1 draw with hosts West Germany.

Italy, who will also face Switzerland (June 16) and Wales (June 20) in Group A, are taking part in their 10th European Championship finals. They won the tournament in their first appearance (1968) and have since reached the final twice without lifting the Henri Delaunay trophy (2000 and 2012).

"I told him [Mancini] I don't know if you're going to win the Euros, but you're going to get there," added Vieri, who scored 23 goals for the national team. "The team is strong, and they have big players again and everyone is following."

Another former Italy international, Walter Zenga, also lauded Mancini's work at the helm of the four-time world champions, while highlighting the quality of the entire coaching staff that includes Gianluca Vialli and Daniele De Rossi.

A three-time winner of the IFFHS World's Best Goalkeeper award, ex-Inter star Zenga – regarded as one of the greatest keepers of all time – played 58 games for Italy between 1987 and 1992, including appearances at the World Cup in 1986 and 1990 and Euro 88.

"The important thing right now is we have a great coach. Not only a great coach but a great standard of staff," said Zenga, who still holds the record for going 518 minutes (five consecutive clean sheets) without conceding a goal at the 1990 World Cup.

"All the technical staff were involved in football – Vialli, De Rossi, et cetera. This helps the team to grow up and arrive at the Euros with a big chance to win."

A lot of attention will be on number one goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, who has played a key role amid Italy's undefeated streak under Mancini.

There is also uncertainty over Donnarumma's future, with the 22-year-old star out of contract at Milan and tipped to join Ligue 1 giants Paris Saint-Germain.

"You have to consider one nice thing in life and football: you can improve yourself every day," Zenga said when asked about the quality of Donnarumma, who debuted as a 16-year-old for Milan in 2015. "There's no one day that you say you're at the top level, especially when you're 22.

"I've met him a lot of times in Milan and his character is very strong. He is strong because either if he makes a big save, makes an unbelievable game or the worst game of his life, he looks like he is [in] complete control of himself. This is the most important thing in life. He is the top goalkeeper in Italy."

When Roberto Mancini was appointed in May 2018, the only way was up for Italy.

For the first time since 1958, the Azzurri were going to miss out on a World Cup. A play-off defeat to Sweden left the four-time winners looking on from afar when the 2018 edition was staged in Russia.

Mancini himself said the country was still in mourning six months later upon his arrival. There had been tears of sadness from the great Gianluigi Buffon in the immediate aftermath following a failure to score at San Siro, as a 0-0 draw on home soil followed on from a 1-0 defeat in the first leg in Stockholm.

Just over three years later, however, and Italy's outlook ahead of a major tournament could not be more contrasting. The only tears they are hoping to see this time around are the joyous kind.

Having lacked a clear and obvious gameplan under Gian Piero Ventura, the current crop have developed a sharpness and style to match their manager's dress sense.

At the very beginning of his reign, Mancini had made clear what needed to happen to get Italy off the canvas and back with a fighting chance of competing at the highest level. In hindsight, he has proven to be the ideal man for a crisis.

"It's a difficult time and there's a lot to do"

Mancini was not lying with his assessment of the situation at his first press conference after taking the job. Italy had finished second behind Spain in Group G of World Cup qualifying, though their only defeat in the round-robin stage had come away to La Roja.

However, the play-off round that followed was a disaster in football terms. Beaten by a goal from Jakob Johansson in the first meeting, Ventura's side dominated possession and attempted plenty of shots second time around, only to draw a blank. Sweden stood firm, dealing with cross after cross to keep a clean sheet and punch their ticket.

As Italy strived without success to find a breakthrough, Lorenzo Insigne sat on the bench. The Napoli forward was not called into action at a time when his team desperately needed to score, despite Daniele De Rossi's best attempts to get his compatriot involved.

This time around, Insigne is no longer a peripheral figure. Mancini's preference has been to play a 4-3-3 system, one that allows the 30-year-old to prosper.

There remains a focus on being defensively solid – this is still Italy – but not at the expense of capitalising on opportunities to attack. In qualifying, Italy managed 37 goals, a tally only Belgium (40) bettered, as they won 10 from 10, conceding just four in the process.

Andrea Belotti finished as their leading scorer (four goals), but Ciro Immobile may end up being the chosen one to occupy the central role up top. Both showed they can create too, providing a pair of assists in Group J.

"Our task will be to make Italy close to the fans again through our play and results"

September 10, 2018. That is the last time Italy lost an international game, going down 1-0 to Portugal in a Nations League contest to an Andre Silva goal.

Since that result, Mancini has overseen a 27-match unbeaten run. While the opposition has not always been of the highest standard – the qualification group draw was certainly kind – they have repeatedly churned out results.

A 4-0 thrashing of the Czech Republic in their final warm-up game before the European Championship saw history made, Italy winning eight consecutive games in all competitions without conceding a goal for the first time.

Mancini has overseen such a streak even while heavily rotating, using 40 different players during qualifying, more than any other nation.

Still, some have been regulars under the former Inter and Manchester City boss. Centre-back Leonardo Bonucci played all 10 group fixtures, while Jorginho featured in nine games, the deep-lying midfielder a key figure in helping build patiently from the back by controlling possession, with his 1,019 touches in qualifying comfortably the most by any Italian and only behind Belgium centre-back Toby Alderweireld and Germany midfielder Joshua Kimmich among all teams. Second on the list for Italy was another midfielder in Marco Verratti, who had 917 touches in just seven outings.

With those two charged with dictating proceedings, the third midfielder is afforded the opportunity to work in more advanced positions. Nicolo Barella did so against the Czechs, while there are options aplenty in the 26-man party to fill the wide positions.

The televised show to reveal Italy's final list of players certainly provided plenty of entertainment, but so too has the team on the pitch. This is a squad that Italy fans should enjoy watching in the coming weeks.

"I want to be the head coach who brings Italy back to where we belong in Europe and in the world"

Mancini was defiant when he first met the media in terms of his long-term aim, but can his Italy keep on winning?

The plans put in place have worked so far. Euro 2020, however, will be the key test as to whether such a streak has been built on solid enough foundations to achieve success against the best on the continent. Home advantage will help in the group – they play Turkey, Switzerland and Wales in Rome – as Mancini prepares for his first major tournament in charge.

A delay caused by the COVID-19 pandemic could have easily cost them momentum, but in the additional year they have won 10 and drawn three times. A hat-trick of 2-0 victories in March gave them an ideal start to their World Cup qualifying campaign, putting them on course to reach Qatar.

Mancini's performance led to a contract extension through to 2026, a long-term commitment that shows all is rosy in the garden. The Italian Football Federation had done the same with Ventura too, only to sack him not long after, but this feels different. There is a togetherness among the squad, aided by results on the pitch.

"Mancini has created a great group, a great spirit and has put everyone in a position to express themselves at their best and have fun. We are playing great football," Insigne told Rai Sport after the Czech Republic friendly, having scored one himself and set up a goal for Domenico Berardi.

That spirit – not to mention the streak – will come under pressure in the coming weeks, particularly as Mancini has raised hopes that this Italy can go far.

Still, for a coach who had to pick up the pieces after that miserable night in Milan, creating a situation where such lofty expectations even exist is an impressive achievement in itself.

Roberto Mancini does not think his Italy team are the finished article just yet, despite a 4-0 thrashing of the Czech Republic extending their unbeaten run ahead of Euro 2020.

Italy have not lost an international fixture since a 1-0 Nations League reverse against Portugal back in September 2018, with Friday's emphatic friendly triumph making it 27 consecutive matches without defeat.

Ciro Immobile and Nicolo Barella both benefited from deflections to score in the first half, while birthday boy Lorenzo Insigne celebrated with the third goal before setting up Domenico Berardi soon after.

Mancini was pleased with the performance against "excellent" opponents, though made clear there are areas Italy can improve as they now focus on their tournament opener against Turkey on June 11.

"We played well and faced the match in the right way against an excellent team," Mancini said in his post-match interview with Rai Sport.

"At the beginning it took us a few minutes to get going, but I wanted to see the team play like this, it's my national team. We need to improve from many points of view, I think it can be a good thing.

"We have to play our game. We are an offensive team, we must attack and defend when there is a need to defend. The mentality will be important.

He added: "We need to improve, we are young and there are many points of view where we can do better. However, a friendly match like this is a good sign."

Insigne excelled on the day he turned 30, with his goal seeing him convert when played through by Immobile's clever pass in behind the Czech defence.

Napoli forward Insigne then assisted for Berardi to complete the scoring, Italy winning with ease while keeping an eighth successive clean sheet – a new record for the national team.

Sassuolo's Berardi made it five goals in his last six appearances for Italy.

"I feel the coach's confidence and I try to do my best," Insigne said after the game. 

"Mancini has created a great group, a great spirit and has put everyone in a position to express themselves at their best and have fun. We are playing great football."

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)

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).

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.

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."

Belgium coach Roberto Martinez says he would like to see squad size limits expanded for Euro 2020 due to the COVID-19 situation.

Martinez revealed after Belgium's 8-0 2022 World Cup qualifying win over Belarus on Tuesday that the idea had been discussed among coaches including England's Gareth Southgate and Italy's Roberto Mancini.

Mancini flagged the idea of expanding squad sizes from 23 to 26 in the media on Monday, while Martinez noted the Royal Belgian Football Association (KBVB) was pushing for a change.

"I support the Royal Belgian Football Association completely in the idea of increasing the squad numbers," Martinez said.

"I think it's something that's needed. It would match the changes that've been made in the current situation in world football, with the five substitutions, the uncertainty of the pandemic attack and the extra level of injuries, I think it would be a good thing to do."

The Euros are set to be played across 12 cities in a dozen European countries, with Belgium's group playing in Copenhagen and St Petersburg, adding unique logistical challenges to the event.

Mancini and Martinez have argued that the congested recent football schedule and subsequent increase in injuries means the change made sense.

"I think we've got a bigger picture now international football is not what it used to be," Martinez said.

"They only had one big tournament around the corner. Now the Euros were delayed, in the next 18 months we're going to be participating in the qualifiers for the World Cup. You've got the World Cup at the end of it and you've got the Nations League final.

"There's many, many players who'll be needed over the next 18 months and everything is a process."

Belgium, who made the 2018 World Cup semi-finals, are among the favourites to lift the European title and Martinez said he was narrowing in on his final squad for the tournament.

"The information of this camp will be essential for the final list for the Euros," the former Everton and Swansea City boss said. "Everything is taken into consideration.

"When you go to tournament football, it's very, very different. We think that tournament football, you've got two tournaments in one tournament. First you've got the group phase, the three games, and then the knockout.

"We need to have players for both tournaments. It's a mixture. I'm willing to do it like we did in the World Cup 2018, making sure we take every individual to fit a good balance in the squad and pick the best members for the best squad possible."

Italy were far from at their best against Bulgaria on Sunday, but Roberto Mancini did not expect anything different from his side.

Mancini's unbeaten run as Italy boss was extended to 24 games – one shy of Marcello Lippi's longest streak and just six off the all-time record, set by Vittorio Pozzo in the 1930s – as goals from Andrea Belotti and Manuel Locatelli sealed a 2-0 win in World Cup qualifying.

The victory took Italy, who beat Northern Ireland in their opening fixture, level on points with Switzerland at the top of Group C.

A much-changed Italy team dominated possession (67.6 per cent), and had 22 attempts, albeit 12 of these were blocked and only six were on target.

Indeed, the tight nature of the game is reflected by the fact that Federico Bernardeschi – who came on as a 76th-minute substitute – registered a game-high three chances, having entered the fray when the match was more of an open contest.

It was 1-0 at that stage, with Belotti's first-half penalty having opened the scoring. Locatelli was then on hand to curl in his first Italy goal – four of the last seven goals scored by the Azzurri have now been netted by Sassuolo players – and put the result beyond all doubt.

While they may have faulted at times in attack, Italy were rock solid in defence, keeping a sixth straight clean sheet on the road, which is their longest run.

In no mood to pick fault with his side, Mancini told RAI Sport: "All games are difficult, especially against teams like Bulgaria who put everyone behind the ball and just wait for the counter-attack.

"Until you find the breakthrough, there are no spaces and it makes life difficult.

"We are at a moment of the season where the players are a little tired. We didn't allow a single chance in the first half, and we only did in the second after we wasted numerous opportunities to extend our lead.

"As I said, there is no such thing as an easy match. The other teams don't give you space and instead just try to neutralise you. Until you get the opening goal, that's at a deadlock.

"I still think we put in a very good performance in the circumstances. We tried after the second goal tonight to score a third, which is what we should've done against Northern Ireland.

"I don’t see other sides winning 7-0 or 8-0 either this week. We know goal difference is important, but the points mean even more and we hope to beat Switzerland."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrea Pirlo must not let the disappointment of Juventus' shock defeat to Benevento linger for too long, Italy head coach Roberto Mancini has warned. 

The rookie Juve boss saw his team waste a chance to reduce Inter's advantage over them at the Serie A summit to seven points, with Adolfo Gaich sealing a 1-0 triumph for Filippo Inzaghi's side. 

Questions over Pirlo's leadership have already been asked and will persist, as the prospect of a 10th successive Scudetto disappears almost over the horizon.

It would take an Inter implosion and for Juventus to suddenly become infallible for the Bianconeri to catch the Nerazzurri. Neither prospect looks likely.

Mancini understands the pressure Pirlo is under and advised him to adopt a positive mindset to overcome his difficulties. 

"It is a delicate moment for him, but it is the life of all the coaches," he told a media conference. 

"The frustration must last as little as possible, then you have to think positively knowing that this happens in football. 

"He is young and he has started [his managerial career] in a big club. He has a bit of difficulty but he has begun a path."

Mancini was speaking ahead of Italy's World Cup qualifying campaign, which kicks off at home to Northern Ireland on Thursday before visits to Bulgaria and Lithuania in Group C. 

Federico Chiesa is expected to play an important role for the Azzurri after his impressive season for Juventus. 

The 23-year-old has scored six league goals for the club since arriving on loan from Fiorentina in October, while only Alvaro Morata has made more assists (eight) than his six. 

He has also created three more chances (38) for his team-mates than any other Juve player in the top-flight this season. 

"I am happy because in the last two months he has improved a lot, but he can still improve more," Mancini said. 

"He still has room to improve and become a player capable of scoring plenty of goals and providing plenty of assists."

Mancini will be joined in the dugout by Daniele De Rossi, who recently joined Italy as a technical coach. 

De Rossi, who earned 117 caps for the Azzurri and won the 2006 World Cup, retired from playing in January last year after a brief stint with Boca Juniors in Argentina.

The 37-year-old made 616 appearances in a distinguished career with Roma and Mancini expects his experience to be invaluable.

"We talked about it some time ago, when he stopped and then decided to go to Boca," Mancini said. 

"We needed a person who could help us on the pitch, given the many commitments, and we made this decision. 

"He was an important player for the national team, a world champion. He needs to gain experience because he wants to be a coach. I think it was the right choice."

Italy boss Roberto Mancini handed first call-ups to Atalanta captain Rafael Toloi and Spezia midfielder Matteo Ricci as he selected a 38-man squad for the three upcoming World Cup qualifiers. 

Brazilian-born Toloi has been residing in Italy since leaving Sao Paulo to join Atalanta in 2015 and has received the citizenship that makes him eligible to represent the Azzurri. 

The 30-year-old has been summoned at the first opportunity by head coach Mancini, who has observed the centre-back as a prominent member of the Atalanta team that has caught the eye in Serie A and the Champions League. 

Ricci, 26, joined Spezia from Roma in July 2018 and helped the team win promotion to Serie A last season. 

He has yet to score in the top flight for Spezia this term but has had two assists and created 16 chances, while winning possession 139 times, a team-high mark. 

Italy face Northern Ireland in Parma in their Group C qualifying opener next Thursday, then tackle Bulgaria in Sofia on March 28 before playing Lithuania three days later in Vilnius. 

The Inter trio of Alessandro Bastoni, Nicolo Barella and Stefano Sensi will only be involved if they have the all-clear from health authorities, given they are currently subject to COVID-19 restrictions after positive tests at the club. 

Inter's Stefan de Vrij and Matias Vecino tested positive for coronavirus, and the Nerazzurri said on Thursday all players would be prevented from joining up with their international teams, although that may change if they return negative test results on Monday. 

The Italian Football Federation (FIGC) said Ricci must also be similarly cleared to join up. 

Italy are unbeaten in 22 games and have qualified for both Euro 2020, which takes place in June and July, and the Nations League Finals in October. 

Italy squad: 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), Emerson Palmieri (Chelsea), Gian Marco Ferrari (Sassuolo), 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), Rolando Mandragora (Torino), Lorenzo Pellegrini (Roma), Matteo Pessina (Atalanta), Matteo Ricci (Spezia), Stefano Sensi (Inter), Roberto Soriano (Bologna), Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain); Andrea Belotti (Torino), Domenico Berardi (Sassuolo), Federico Bernardeschi (Juventus), Francesco Caputo (Sassuolo), Federico Chiesa (Juventus), Stephan El Shaarawy (Roma), Vincenzo Grifo (Friburgo), Ciro Immobile (Lazio), Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli), Moise Kean (Paris Saint-Germain).

Daniele De Rossi has joined Roberto Mancini's Italy coaching set-up.

The 37-year-old, who earned 117 caps for the Azzurri and won the 2006 World Cup, has come on board as a technical coach.

De Rossi retired from playing in January last year after a brief stint with Boca Juniors in Argentina, having made 616 appearances in a distinguished career with Roma.

"I'm proud to start this new career with the national team and I thank both president [Gabriele] Gravina and coach Mancini for the trust and the opportunity," De Rossi told the FIGC's official website.

"It will be exciting to return to Coverciano, which for me means coming back home and find many former colleagues and friends in the staff and the group. I can't wait to get started."

Mancini, who has been at the helm since 2018, was happy to welcome De Rossi into the fold. 

"I'm very pleased that Daniele joins our group," Mancini said. "I'm sure he will be able to give the lads an important contribution and I hope that his first experience will be useful for the future."

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