During the course of UEFA EURO 2020 we will be taking a closer look at each of our opponents. On Sunday, Cymru take on Italy at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome (5pm) in the third group match. Here's all you need to know about the Azzurri.
As four-time world champions, Italy are one of the most respected and successful nations in the history of the international game. However, they inexcusably failed to qualify for the last World Cup in 2018, while their only EURO success came back in 1968. The level of expectancy brings with it an additional pressure, while the intense media attention leaves little room for anything other than success when it comes to competing at the finals of a major tournament.
Now under the guidance of Roberto Mancini, Italy head into Sunday's match against Cymru on an undefeated run that was extended to 29 games with their convincing 3-0 victory over Switzerland on Wednesday evening. Italy have also won their last 10 games without conceding a single goal. Mancini has taken huge strides forward in changing the tactical culture of the team and has turned them into a formidable opponent.
A successful striker with Sampdoria and Lazio during his illustrious 20-year playing career, Roberto Mancini won the Serie A title and the Coppa Italia with both clubs, and also made 36 appearances for his country between 1984 and 1994, but his time with the national team was restricted by personal disputes. As a manager, Mancini has coached in Italy, Turkey, Russia and England, claiming three Serie A titles with Inter Milan and leading Manchester City to their first Premier League title as well as the FA Cup. During his career as a player and a manager, Mancini has claimed over 25 major trophies.
Name: Giorgio Chiellini
Club: Juventus (Italy)
A veteran of over 750 games for club and country during his professional playing career, Giorgio Chiellini is one of the most-respected and recognisable figures in the Italian game. A reliable defender for Juventus during the last 16 seasons, Chiellini has won 20 trophies during his time in Turin. He remained at the club following their demotion to Serie B in 2006, and has made over 100 appearances for the national team since making his debut against Finland in November 2004. A true legend of the Italian game, Chiellini is showing no signs of bringing his career to a close just yet.
Italy's only EURO success occurred back in 1968 when they hosted the four-team tournament. Under the guidance of Ferruccio Valcareggi, Italy defeated the Soviet Union on the toss of a coin following a 0-0 draw in Naples, and then defeated Yugoslavia in the reply of the final in Rome. In 2000, manager Dino Zoff guided Italy to the final, but the side suffered a 2-1 defeat to France in Rotterdam. The side again reached the final in 2012 under Cesare Prandelli, but were defeated 4-0 by the dominant Spain side of that era in Kiev. Antonio Conte took Italy to the quarter-finals of the competition in 2016, but they were eliminated by Germany following a penalty shoot-out in Bordeaux.
How they qualified
Under the guidance of Roberto Mancini following his appointment in 2018, Italy registered a perfect record in qualifying for EURO 2020, winning all 10 games in Group J and scoring an impressive 37 goals in the process, while conceding just four. Having scored 11 goals over two games against Liechtenstein, Italy completed their qualifying campaign with a 9-1 win over Armenia in Palermo in November 2019, with seven different players scoring in the victory. Torino's Andrea Belotti was their leading scorer in the campaign with four goals.
Italy continued their fine form from EURO 2020 qualifying in the UEFA Nations League A1 to finish as undefeated group winners. However, the side are currently on an incredible run of 10 consecutive victories without conceding a single goal which stretches back to November 2020. Avoiding defeat against Cymru on Sunday would make it 30 games with a loss, a run of games that began in October 2018 with a 1-1 draw against Ukraine in Genoa. This is a side that has forgotten how to lose, while the high standards set by Roberto Mancini are more than evident in the consistent performances of his team.
Although Italian teams are traditionally associated with the defensive philosophy of catenaccio, Roberto Mancini has taken this team in a very different direction. Playing with a bold and attacking pragmatism, Italy are defying the constraints of their footballing culture to produce an effective style of play that has brought the best out of the attacking players in their squad. Defending from the front, attack is proving to be the best form of defence.
A relentless purpose to their play has already seen them score six goals in their opening two games of the tournament. With a number of attacking options to compliment their midfield creativity, there is a competitiveness within the squad for a place in the starting line-up, while the defence upon which past success has been built has been restored to former glory by keeping 10 consecutive clean sheets.
“Mancini has brought a completely different mentality to the team. Italy are always trying to impose their own style against any opponents with football based on possession. The biggest example of this is Mancini’s selection in the midfield trio. Italy have always had a midfield fighter in the past. Mancini went from the beginning with three technical and quite small midfielders instead. Less muscle, more skill with the ball. It was a brave move and it paid huge dividends. Italy has earned great results under Mancini and the confidence is certainly back.” - Paolo Menicucci, Italian football journalist.
A moment in history – Italy and EURO 1968 glory
Only four teams would compete at the finals of EURO 1968 as Italy were joined by Yugoslavia, England and the Soviet Union. The hosts were selected once the four teams had been confirmed, and it was decided that the games would take place in Naples, Florence and Rome. Italy were drawn to play the Soviet Union in Naples in what was effectively the first game and semi-final of the tournament, and a 0-0 draw followed. To decide which team would progress to the final, referee Kurt Tschenscher of West Germany would toss a coin, and Italy went through.
Yugoslavia defeated England in the other match, and the final would take place in Rome. Dragan Džajić opened the scoring for Yugoslavia before half-time, but Angelo Domenghini equalised on 80 minutes to take the game to extra-time. No further goals meant that a reply to decide the winner would be required and the teams returned to the same stadium two days later. Over 68,000 fans had witnessed the 1-1 draw but less than half that number returned for the match that would decide the European champions.
It proved to a comfortable success for Italy in the reply, as goals from the great Luigi Riva and Pietro Anastasi ensured that Ferruccio Valcareggi's side would lift the trophy in the capital city. Two years later, Valcareggi would lead Italy to the World Cup final in Mexico, but they were well-beaten by the great Brazilian side of that era. Italy finished fourth at EURO 1980 and reached the semi-finals of the competition again in 1988. However, as beaten finalists in 2000 and 2012, their success of 1968 has never been repeated.
Record v Cymru
Cymru have claimed only two victories over Italy since the two nations first met back in May 1965, with the most famous result taking place in Cardiff in October 2002 when goals from Simon Davies and Craig Bellamy defeated Italy 2-1 in what remains one of the great moments in the history of the national team. The only other victory for Cymru took place in Brescia in 1988 as a goal from Ian Rush earned Terry Yorath's side a surprise victory. However, Italy have scored four goals against Cymru on four separate occasions, the most recent time being when the two sides last met at the San Siro in Milan back in September 2003.