Feature Photo: Valerio Pennicino / Getty Images
Liechtenstein lies in the 181st position of the FIFA Ranking, so no need to be overly enthusiastic. Even grabbing six points in the two initial games of their Euro 2020 Qualifiers should be put in the right perspective: Group J is far from being a difficult one. Still, Italy’s 6-0 win from last night, embellished by a double by Fabio Quagliarella and a new goal by young talent Moise Kean, was enough to warm the hearts of Ennio Tardini Stadium’s supporters in Parma.
Italian fans are traditionally cold and critical when it comes to judge their Nazionale’s performance, and you don’t often see the Azzurri scoring more than three of four times (actually, Roberto Mancini’s new squad had never scored more than two in their appearances so far). And so, the rain of goals that hit the poor Principality’s selection was very well welcome. Deciding the outcome of Group J should not be a matter of goal difference, but just in case.
For his second test on the road to next year’s itinerant European Championship, Roberto Mancini took the luxury of changing seven players from the lineup that had beaten Finland three days ago. Captain Giorgio Chiellini was given some rest, and spent his night on the stands posing for selfies with supporters, and moreover with the guests of honor of the night: 12-year-old Rami and Adam, the two kids who recently contributed thwarting a school bus hijack.
Niccolo’ Barella, one of the best against Finland, was also surprisingly left on the bench, but his replacement Stefano Sensi didn’t make Mancini regret his choice. Sassuolo’s small-sized midfielder was actually the one to give the match a clear direction, towering from his 168 cms after 17 minutes to turn a cross by Leonardo Spinazzola into Italy’s first goal.
Marco Verratti, confirmed by the coach as double playmaker together with Jorginho, showed glimpses of his talent – too often unseen when playing for the Azzurri – as he concluded a strong progression into Liechtenstein’s box with a razor-sharp shot that left no chance to the good Benjamin Buchel. (Full credit to the visitor goalkeeper for his multiple saves, and attempts to delay the inevitable) Verratti, who had yet to score a single goal in this season, joined Italy’s scorecard for the first time since 2013.
Two handballs in the box on the part of Liechtenstein’s defenders sent Fabio Quagliarella on the penalty spot twice before the end the first half. In the second occasion, the referee sent out Daniel Kaufmann: An overly severe decision that left the poor Liechtensteiners to play with one man less for the remaining 45 minutes.
Italy’s designated penalty shooter was Jorginho, but Chelsea’s midfielder honorably left the task to the 36-year-old Serie A top scorer. Quagliarella didn’t disappoint, thus becoming the oldest player to ever have scored a goal for the Azzurri. Before leaving the pitch and grabbing a standing ovation from the Ennio Tardini, he also managed to serve a header assist to Moise Kean, for Juventus’ sensation to book his place in the scorecard for the second match in a row.
Cagliari’s Leonardo Pavoletti, who replaced Quagliarella, also joined the goal fest minutes later, setting the score to 6-0 in the 76th minute. Salvatore Sirigu, the substitute of Gianluigi Donnarumma to tend the goal, was mostly a spectator, but could at least take part to Italy’s fifth game in a row with a clean sheet – something not seen since 2005.
The Azzurri will come back to play in June against Bosnia and Greece, likely their toughest contenders on the road to Euro 2020. Both teams did a favor to Italy yesterday as they drew 2-2 in their direct confrontation.
March 26, 2019 – European Championship 2020 Qualifiers Group J
SCORERS: 17′ Sensi, 32′ Verratti, 35′ Quagliarella (pen.), 45′ Quagliarella (pen.), 69′ Kean, 76′ Pavoletti
|ITALY (4-3-3): Sirigu; Mancini, Bonucci (79′ Izzo), Romagnoli, Spinazzola; Sensi, Jorginho (57′ Zaniolo), Verratti; Politano, Quagliarella (72′ Pavoletti), Kean (Cragno, Donnarumma, Biraghi, Barella, Cristante, Grifo, Bernardeschi, Lasagna, Immobile) Coach: Mancini|
|LIECHTENSTEIN (4-4-2): B. Buchel; Wolfinger, Kaufmann, Hofer, Goppel; Sele (46′ Malin), Polverino, Wieser, Kuhne (68′ Meier); Hasler, Salamovic (82′ M. Buchel) (Hobi, Majer, Yildiiz, Eberle, Rechsteiner, Gubser, Ospelt, Frick) Coach: Kolvidsson|
REFEREE: Levnikov (Russia)
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Izzo (I), Hasler (L); Red Card: Kaufmann (L)