The Azzurri had a summer to remember as they lifted the European Championships at Wembley. They defeated England on penalties and dominated the tournament. However, since then life for manager Roberto Mancini has been somewhat rocky after they failed to qualify automatically for the World Cup in Qatar in 2022 but he will be confident of qualifying via the play offs after finishing the qualifying campaign unbeaten.
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How did the campaign play out?
Four wins and four draws was not enough for Mancini’s men who were pipped to the post by Switzerland; who finished two points better off. It was a disappointing night with Italy frustrated by a stubborn Northern Irish side who secured a famous draw; Northern Ireland nearly stole all three points late on.
It looked more than likely that Italy would be finishing top of the group when the draw was announced but shortcomings in the goal scoring department left them short even if they did manage to beat Northern Ireland. Their last five games summed up their form as they drew four of them leaving them to qualify via the play offs.
Like many players at club level it seemed that Italy were suffering something of a hangover from the European Championships as post Euro 2020 Italy dropped points. It has raised questions over Italy’s credentials and if they are suffering a hoodoo from failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Qualification to the 2022 World Cup could have been secured during the 1-1 draw with Switzerland but if not for another Jorginho miss from the spot. The Chelsea man has struggled from the spot for his country and this time he has not been saved by his teammates.
Who impressed in the Qualification Period?
It has not been all doom and gloom with Italian players showing stubbornness in defence and only conceding two goals in the entire qualification period. The ever impressive Gianluigi Donnarumma started every game in the qualification period and did his part by keeping six clean sheets out of the eight games.
In front of him Leonardo Bonucci is just not getting any older, he is constantly rolling back the years and putting in a solid performance each game. In particular against Bulgaria where the Bulgarians were restricted to just three shots on goal.
Although difficulties have been up front for the Azzurri, they have still managed to have some goal scorers. Ciro Immobile did finish as joint top goal scorer but with just two goals. Admittedly in a tough group, Breel Embolo only managed to score one more than him but for Italy to qualify automatically they needed more from Immobile and his teammates.
However, Immobile was exactly the goal scorer that was needed in the last two fixtures but was forced out through injury. Mancini will be hoping he is fit once again to help Italy when they face North Macedonia in March.
Joint top scorer with Immobile was the Napoli right back Giovanni Di Lorenzo; that says a lot about the strikers for Italy at the moment. However, Di Lorenzo has shown superb attacking quality with goals against Lithuania and Switzerland. He is a consistent performer who is comfortable on the ball and his continued form with Napoli this season will encourage Mancini come March 2022.
Alongside Di Lorenzo in terms of attacking is the Juventus utility man Federico Bernardeschi. Having not featured heavily at Euro 2020, Mancini has used him more in the qualifiers. He contributed two assists in the 5-0 defeat of Lithuania in September and really should be used more by the Italian manager.
Who deserves another chance?
With the interruption, well if you can call winning the European Championships an interruption, of the Euros, Italy struggled to keep momentum going in the qualification period. Mancini used a staggering 36 different players over the qualification games with some failing to nail down a place in his side despite impressing.
One player that came into the side and impressed was the Juventus striker Moise Kean. Still only 21, the Everton loanee is looking to establish himself back into the national side. Having made just one appearance against Lithuania and scoring a brace you would have imagined he might be useful in a side struggling for goals.
AC Milan midfielder Sandro Tonali is another who deserves to be playing for Italy. Only recently being recalled to the Italian national side after making his debut in 2019, Tonali has grown as a footballer and is a key defensive, tough tackling central midfielder. The 21 year old was restricted for minutes in the previous two international games but Mancini will be looking at Tonali’s progress for the play off qualifiers.
The bookmakers at Coral still have Italy at 14/1 and these are some of the best odds around with Italy not even through to the tournament yet, their odds will shorten when they qualify. With Coral you can access betting however you want to either online, on your mobile or in store. You can even mix all three!
Will Italy make the World Cup?
Mancini will feel he has missed out on a massive opportunity to qualify automatically and it will not be an easy prospect especially after the Sweden debacle in 2018. However, they will go into the play offs as strong favourites against a North Macedonia side who are looking to make their first World Cup but they need to score goals.