Feature Photo: Andreas Solaro / Getty Images
Roberto Mancini’s young Azzurri are off to a good start on their way to Euro 2020. Italy beat Finland 2-0 in Udine last night to pass their first test to win back access to the football aristocracy. Goals by Niccolo’ Barella and Moise Kean, whose combined aged is 38, showed that the Italian coach’s work to rejuvenate the Belpaese football movement is starting to bear fruit.
For his Qualifiers debut, Mancini lined up a starting eleven whose average age was 26, a quite unusual occurrence for a national selection used to desperately hold on their past generation’s key players way past their prime. Injuries by Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Chiesa pushed the coach – a former Azzurro himself – to put in from the start 19-year-old Moise Kean, a semi-unknown Juventus striker who recently made the headlines thanks to his first Serie A brace.
Kean, the first player born in the 2000s to officially debut from the start with the Azzurri, initially struggled to hit it off with more experienced Ciro Immobile. But when Lazio’s forward finally managed to catch him in the box, Kean slid past the Nordic defense to make it two for Italy and secure them their first three points in Group J.
Niccolo’ Barella drew first blood after seven minutes already, the first Cagliari representative to score for Italy since poor Davide Astori’s goal in 2013 against Uruguay. The Sardinian playmaker bounced back a clearance from the Finnish defense with a powerful shot from outside the area, and an unfortunate deflection by Crotone defender Sauli Vaisanen did the rest.
But it was not all nice and easy for the Mancio’s young lot against a modest opponent whose five-man defense left little chance for making play. Rock-solid defenders like 101-times-capped Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci suffered a few unexpected amnesia that could have costed much – especially when Bonucci left Norwich’s Teemo Pukki free to shot in front of the Azzurri’s goal. Good for him and for Italy that the current English Championship’s top scorer did not live up to his fame.
Brazilian-born midfielder Jorginho also made two mistakes in a row that must have made Mancini cringe, and the Nazionale’s trainer spent a good deal of his time quarreling with an inconclusive Immobile. In the end, the most positive notes for him came from a more seasoned lad whose age is 36.
Sampdoria’s Fabio Quagliarella replaced Immobile in the 80th minute, returning to wear an Azzurri jersey almost nine years after his last appearance. In less than 10 minutes, Quaglia
hit the crossbar and forced the Finnish goalie to an amazing save,
showing that, even with all the exuberance of Italy’s young lions, one
can still not dispense of the experience of a 36-year-old Serie A capocannoniere and his elixir of life.
Next Tuesday against Lichtenstein – the second test for Italy on the way to the European Championships – the Azzurri’s new power generation (including Roma sensation Nicolo’ Zaniolo, who also made an emotional debut last night) will be called to confirm whether this is really the case.
March 23, 2019 – European Championship 2020 Qualifiers Group J
SCORERS: 7′ Barella, 74′ Kean
|ITALY (4-3-3): Donnarumma; Piccini, Bonucci, Chiellini, Biraghi (90′ Spinazzola); Barella, Jorginho, Verratti (85′ Zaniolo); Bernardeschi, Immobile (80′ Quagliarella), Kean (Sirigu, Cragno, Mancini, Romagnoli, Sensi, Grifo, Politano, Pavoletti, El Shaarawy) Coach: Mancini|
|FINLAND (5-4-1): Hradecky; Granlund (90′ Soiri), Toivio, Arajuuri, S. Vaisanen, Pirinen; Lod, Kamara, Sparv; Pukki (83′ Karjalainen), Hamalainen (70′ Lappalainen) (Jaakkola, Joronen, Lam, Jensen, Kauko, Schuller, Taylor, L. Vaisanen, Sumusalo) Coach: Kanerva|
REFEREE: Grinfeld (Israel)
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Verratti, Piccini (I), Sparv (F)