• Victory over Swiss will see Italy become the first team to reach the knockout stages of Euro 2020
Italy coach Roberto Mancini said his “excellent” team can only improve ahead of their second European Championship match, against Switzerland today, even though they made a near perfect start in their opening clash with Turkey last week.
Italy stretched their unbeaten run to 28 matches – two shy of the Azzurri record set nearly a century ago – with a 3-0 win last Friday in the Stadio Olimpico, leading many to consider Mancini’s side Euro 2020 title contenders.
“The Turkey game was difficult,” Mancini told a news conference. “But when we scored, they opened up. We will have to win the next one and if possible also the next one. We have to do our best. I am confident. This is an excellent team that can only improve. If the English bookmakers say (Italy are favourites), we accept it because they get it right, but the championship is still long. We have much work to do.”
Victory over Switzerland will see Italy become the first team to reach the knockout stages of Euro 2020, with one Group A match still to play. However, the Italians have won their opening two matches only twice in their nine previous appearances at the European Championship, doing so in 2000 and 2016, and Mancini is not taking Switzerland lightly.
“Switzerland has always put Italy in difficulty,” he added. “They are always among the top rankings in world football, with good and experienced players, and they have a coach who knows Italy very well having coached here previously. It will be difficult, and we will need to be at our top level.”
Italy defender Leonardo Bonucci praised the togetherness of the group, highlighting team spirit as one reason for their resurgence since failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
“Three years ago was a real low point for us,” he said. “Humility and keeping your feet on the ground are the secrets to competing like we did against Turkey. We have always reset after great wins, continuing to do our duty. The desire to return to the national team is back. It is thanks to the coach, we came from a dark place. The fact we are improving is a natural consequence of the good feeling among us.”
Coach Petkovic warns
Swiss players not to give
Italy too much respect
Meanwhile, Switzerland coach Vladimir Petkovic has told his players not to show in-form Italy too much respect and have belief that they can win. Switzerland missed a host of chances and were held 1-1 by Wales in their first game in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku, meaning anything they can get out of this contest could be precious in their bid to reach the second round.
“We will do what we have always done, which is to play our own game,” Petkovic said. “We will respect Italy, but not too much. They are the big favourites, not only in our group, but in general in this tournament. We all saw the quality they showed against Turkey. But we have quality too and can surprise them. We will try to turn the game in our favour and be a bit quicker when we attack and create chances.”
Switzerland have matched Belgium, Brazil, England and Spain in recent years, which Petkovic says should give them cause for optimism.
“I hope that we will give 120%, just like we did against all the other big teams. We will need to be better than we actually are, we will have to have a great effort, run a lot and be great in duels. Then we can win,” he said.
“We need to play our own game and be dangerous in the final third. We must guard against certain Italian moves, but also be true to ourselves.”
Petkovic said he will field his strongest starting XI and not rest players for what could potentially be a crucial final group match against Turkey on Sunday. “Let’s take things one match at a time, we will not get ahead of ourselves,” he added. “It is very important to give 120% with the best starting XI available. We hope we can produce a big performance and win the match to be sure that we can go through to the next round.”
Italy’s coach Roberto Mancini. (AFP)
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