Italy trashed Lithuania 5-0 and despite facing a few issues during the international break, Giancarlo Rinaldi reckons the Azzurri have exciting times ahead.
Anything was going to be a bit of an anti-climax after Wembley. With the greatest of respect, three World Cup qualifiers with Bulgaria, Switzerland and Lithuania felt a bit like swapping your spaghetti with truffles for a snack at a motorway service station. The outcome, on occasion, proved just as hard to digest but it ended up being perfectly palatable.
The opening two fixtures were a tale of what might have been. Roberto Mancini’s men produced enough chances to win both matches. Instead, they displayed an allergy to finding the net which flared up in spectacular fashion. They found a cure, however, in time to put three precious points on the board against Lithuania. A goal feast turned some early frowns around.
For those who like to focus on the sunrise rather than the sunset, there were positive notes to grasp, particularly in that final encounter. Moise Kean and Giacomo Raspadori put on a show that illustrated the strength in depth of this squad. And, in a month traditionally unkind to the national team, they emerged with a world record of undefeated games – 37 and counting – which is not to be sniffed at. Others would kill for such form.
La Nazionale, of course, is not like everyone else and the standards demanded are higher than Gigio Donnarumma’s coat peg. On that level, these steps on the road to Qatar were somewhat stuttering. A goal conceded to Bulgaria and failure to score against Switzerland suggested more fine tuning is needed to get back to the levels of the summer. Nothing disastrous, just yet, but definitely something to keep an eye on.
In the hunt for a scapegoat, many people settled on perennial whipping boy Ciro Immobile who is currently on an extended goal drought in the colours of his country. Mancio has insisted he is not an issue but efforts to try almost everyone as a replacement – even false nine Nicolò Zaniolo – suggest he has his concerns. The lack of a prolific striker is not such an issue when others are chipping in winning goals but in games where things get tight what a bonus it is to have a hitman who can deliver a victory out of nothing. Everyone loves a get out of jail card.
But if not the Lazio man, then who? Not many people rate Andrea Belotti any higher but Moise Kean and Giacomo Raspadori did their stock no harm against, admittedly, quite humble opposition. They certainly looked like they deserved a chance against sides of higher quality. One game wasn’t enough to give any conclusive proof that they are necessarily the answer to all of Italy’s attacking concerns but they’ve earned a shot at showing they might have what it takes.
Team Italia managed to win EURO 2020 without anyone contributing a huge goal haul and maybe a World Cup could be won in similar fashion. However, what weight would be lifted if the next Paolo Rossi or Toto Schillaci could explode in time for the tournament. In truth, though, Italy has rarely had a frontman who could deliver goals with consistency – Gigi Riva standing head and shoulders above pretty much everyone else. The last players to produce about a goal every other game were Roby Baggio, Bobo Vieri and, stretching it a little, Pippo Inzaghi. Immobile’s strike rate is not so far from that of Gianluca Vialli and Luca Toni, just to refresh people’s memories. Don’t discard him just yet.
The most glaring misses, in fact, came from some heroes of the summer. Domenico Berardi and Jorginho – from the penalty spot – spurned great opportunities against the Swiss. These were moments, though, not long-term disasters. The squad remains strong and these are key players.
Mancini was right to tell everyone to stay cool for the group’s final games. He was proved right when Switzerland were held to a draw by Northern Ireland giving his team a six-point cushion at the top. It makes the November showdown with the Swiss in Rome look a little less scary as the best their neighbours can do is to come into it on level terms – not ahead of the Azzurri.
That match appears well within this team’s compass. Federico Chiesa still looks like a world-beater, Donnarumma is rock solid and the old Leonardo Bonucci-Giorgio Chiellini double act is as rugged as ever. Having seen the reserves do so well against Lithuania there is reason to feel pretty calm and confident about that crucial tie.
We got spoiled a bit at the European championships but anyone who has followed the Azzurri for any time will know that qualification is rarely something they achieve easily. To still have that objective firmly within their grasp should be encouraging enough for now as they work their way into form towards bigger targets. There is room for improvement, no doubt, but the foundations are still there to suggest that they should have their shot at glory in Qatar next year.