Italy are setting plenty of negative records at the moment. Their latest 1-1 draw versus Ukraine — in a friendly in aid of the victims of August’s bridge collapse — on Wednesday evening was only the second time in the history of the Azzurri that they had gone five matches without a win on home soil, the last time during the period between 1923 and 1925.
Italy have also failed to keep a clean sheet in their last eight consecutive matches, the worst run in this regard since the 1958/59 campaign. It was November 2017 when the side with the famous blue shirts last avoided conceding in the 90 minutes, ironically in previous boss Giampiero Ventura’s reign, when a 0-0 draw with Sweden saw them fail to qualify for a World Cup for the first time in 60 years.
New man Roberto Mancini is trying to resurrect the Azzurri from their lowest point, yet the results are taking a long time to reverse. The former Manchester City boss has made the necessary positive changes, but starting from scratch after such an abject disaster was always going to take time.
Little by little, Italy are beginning to improve, and there have been some positive signs despite a lack of tangible results.
“I think we deserved to score at least a couple of goals tonight. We have to improve that aspect and continue along this path,” Mancini insisted to reporters from RAI Sport after the match. “We have to be more incisive in attack, because when we get the chances, we need to score. It’s normal after four or five substitutions to struggle, we allowed Ukraine a few chances towards the end, but the performance overall was good.”
Indeed, seven shots on target from a newly-formed attacking trident of Federico Bernardeschi of Juventus, Napoli’s Lorenzo Insigne and 20-year-old Fiorentina star Federico Chiesa was the best tally since June 2017, when Italy fired 13 towards Lichtenstein. Of course, the side desperately need goals and face Poland in the UEFA Nations League on Sunday, however the signs in attack are positive.
“E’ un’Italia che ha Fede” read the headline in Thursday’s edition of La Gazzetta dello Sport, in a clever reference to the double meaning of the last word in that sentence. “It’s an Italy that has Fede” can mean the side has faith — a literal translation — or refer to the nickname of both Federico Chiesa and Federico Bernardeschi in attack.
“Quality, rhythm and a trident, Mancio still doesn’t win, but takes a step forward,” the headline went on to read. It is true that this project requires a leap of faith with no results on paper to cling on to at the moment, but a goal and an improved performance from Bernardeschi shows that the 24-year-old is ready to make the step up at international level just has he has done for club side Juve so far this term.
“It’s a pity we didn’t win, as we really deserved to get the victory,” the Carrara-native told RAI Sport afterwards. “We created six or seven clear chances, took the lead and then conceded at their first opportunity,” Bernardeschi told Rai Sport. “We are here to win every game, we know it’s not easy, but we try. I saw an Italy performance that was vastly improved from last time, the Coach has some great ideas and we have to work on them.”
Bernardeschi gives Italy the lead - with a huge helping hand from Ukraine goalkeeper Pyatov
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Football supporters are notoriously impatient, but Italy fans should be able to see that they have a new star emerging here. After a raft of forgettable performances from Bernardeschi for both club and country, the former Fiorentina man is now putting himself at the heart of the action, asking for the ball and making the right choice with vivacity, skill and enthusiasm.
What must happen next is that the Azzurri take such a positive display forward, turning around the results as they build towards Euro 2020.