Italy’s triple test ends on a high

by | Sep 9, 2021 10:20

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.

Italy 5-0 Lithuania: Kean and Raspadori refresh Azzurri

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.

Italy struggling for goals: five alternatives to Immobile

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.

Italy set new all-time world unbeaten record

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.



  1. Bob

    You say humble opposition, but I bet Ciro still would have fired blanks… like Borriello said, Ciro doesn’t fit the style of this team.. to me he’s too robotic… stiff..
    I’d be bold and stick with Rasp and Kean.. let them run with it and see where they go… play em as much as you can… they’ll be 22 by the time Qatar starts and hopefully ready for the show.. this means little Lorenzo needs to be a sub from now on. (going on 31 and seems a bit stale to me)… Federico will be your right side hero with Berardi as the sub.. occassaional appearances by Bernie for the weaker opponents.

  2. Geedup

    @Bob – You do realise that Immobile has scored and assisted in several games – including the away leg against the same team – right? Saying Lithuania are humble opposition is giving them credit. They are weak and like I already said if Immobile had started and scored twice, you all would be saying even your grand mum would score against them. You can say you’d be bold and stick with Raspadori and Kean but this isn’t Football Manager. Mancini has to choose players who best fit into his setup and not based on age, otherwise Chiellini wouldn’t have played in the Euros and Italy probably wouldn’t have won.

  3. Dan

    Doesn’t matter if Immobile would have scored against Lithuania. He’s not good enough. He’s scored 2 goals in 10 games with THIS Italy team. They give him chance after chance and he doesn’t take it. Give any other top striker this Italy team and they would set records. Kean had 1 chance – 1 goal. Immobile needs 10 chances for every goal he scores.

  4. afp1961

    Formation is everything. The 4-3-3 that Mancini deploys optimizes the wingers. The striker’s role is to draw defenders away and create space, which Ciro actually does very well (note goal scored by Chiesa against Spain). His distribution is also above average as noted by his passes to Insigne. There is no disputing Ciro’s Lazio structure is built around him (as was Lukako at Inter, Vlahovic at Fiorentina, etc…). Ciro has numerous scoring titles in Italy, golden boot, etc. His contributions to the run up to the Euros was instrumental to Italy qualifying with a 10-0 record. People must realize the Mancini Italy play almost with a false nine structure and may need to fine tune this idea further to maximize guys like Zaniolo, Raspadori .

    Its funny, Italians love to bash their nazionale striker. It is what we have always done. However no one is being as equally critical of the poor showings by both Insigne and Berardi in the games against Bulgaria and Switzerland or the slip by Zaniolo when he was alone in front of goal. If any of those players had scored we would be singing a different tune. Please remember in both games the opposition goalie was the Man of The Match. So chances were created, simply not converted.

    In the end, I doubt a true target striker like a Bobo Vieri or Luca Toni would be a difference maker with this squad, UNLESS Mancini changed formation. Both those fellows would not do the running and movements that Ciro does. Simply not in their DNA. So please look at the formation and expectations of each player role before we jump to conclusions.

    Sempre Forza Azzurri

  5. Bob

    He doesn’t do what he’s supposed to do – not even remotely well.. and yes Insigne has disappointed too recently.. never been a fan. He’s inconsistent.. at Geedup, Immobile has scored and assisted in several games? Really? that’s funny.. you read stats a little differently Thant he rest of us.. he blows so many chances it’s pathetic.. I don’t care what he does for Lazio. He’s not even mediocre for the National team.

  6. ACM

    I agree with Bob and will go a little further, Immobile is just terrible for the Azzuri, can’t remember the last thing he’s done right, he can’t even complete a simple short pass, every single time he touches the ball, it’s gone.. and it’s just ugly to watch. I bet if you play Donnaruma in his position you’ll get a better performance.
    Insigne is also a problem, the system and that odd “Moment of Brilliance” is helping mask his weaknesses, to me he’s a selfish little kid with one thing on his mind.. if you try that same Delpiero bend 100 times, 1 is bound to go in, who cares about the team.. Also having Immobile in the squad relives the pressure on him.
    Then there’s Berradi, the poor man’s winger, random as they come and 0 quality. Whenever he gets the ball he’s trying to get rid of it, run and cross aimlessly.
    Italy won the Euros with the superiority of their keeper, defense & midfield ++ CHIESA. The original front 3 couldn’t have won Serie B or anything if it wasn’t for the circumstances. We understand the pressure & form & what not.. but Immobile’s got more than his fair chance, time to let go.

  7. Bob

    AM spot on… Chiesa is a no brainer there and i’d keep Kean there for now.. seems like he’s got it. Talented and strong.

  8. Roberto baggio

    Why are people here defending Immobile from critics. Hes not being criticized for nothing. Its because he clearly isnt scoring. He could have played and score 20 against Lithuania but if following games he doesnt score because he loses the ball between his legs then his previous count for nothing. Its consistency and reliability thats needed in a tournament. I do hope Mancini pics his squad with his head going forward and not emotionally. as much as many players make and were the teams Euro winners, a new challenge lays ahead that may require new faces.

  9. Geedup

    Italy won the Euros with the superiority of their keeper, defense && midfield ++ CHIESA.. Mancini pics his squad with his head going forward and not emotionally. Just the comments on here alone show why Italy struggled to win tournaments in the past, and many other countries like England, Argentina and Belgium have struggled even with quality players. Because of fans and media with no experience or real tactical nous instructing the head coach on whom he should select. Doesn’t matter whether the player fits into his strategy, just throw them in because they score loads of goals or play in the PL or whatever.

    First of all, I don’t want to say this but Chiesa is no world beater. If he was, he’d be scoring 20-30 goals a season, and right now, he’d be carrying Juventus and winning these games they’ve lost. He has got bags of potential but is definitely not the finished product. And truth be told, it’s talk like this that gets to young players’ heads and they end up not reaching the heights they should – Cassano and Balotelli are perfect examples.

    Second, if Immobile couldn’t do a thing right, why was he starting all the games at the Euros? Why didn’t Mancini just play Donnarumma or anybody else in his position? Raspadori was in the squad, why not play him? Exactly what afp1961 said, Mancini needed a player who draws away defenders and creates space and opportunities for teammates who the opposite team may not view as an immediate threat.

    Italy have had far superior teams than this in prior tournaments – 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012 – and yet they couldn’t win. There were far superior teams at the tournament than Italy that were knocked out, including Belgium who had a top goal scorer and yet were convincingly knocked out by Italy. Mancini won this tournament, which Italy haven’t won in over 50 years using superior tactics and players that worked better as a team than individuals.

    I have no problem with Immobile being criticised for missed chances. I have a problem with those who think he offers nothing to the team. If any one of us wins the WC, Euros or any international tournament (even at Junior level) as the head coach, then maybe our opinions about Immobile will hold some weight. Until then, I’m going to go with Mancini on this one.

  10. ACM

    Geedup, maybe you’re right, maybe he was the man for the job but in case you haven’t noticed, the Euros are over, Italy won (despite of him IMO), he’s still firing blanks & other options are available.
    Also you don’t have to win a major tournament to have an opinion, the guy literally sucked and was a laughingstock at the Euros. I would love to see that irreplaceable invisible effect of his that only you, Mancini and other big time trophy winners can see, but I would also like to keep what’s left of my hair and my blood pressure where it should be. And please remember before giving so much weight to movement & drawing defenders away that scoring one of those million chances per game would make up for all the movement in the world and would’ve more than likely been a match winner and at least 50% of the team tally, and a striker doing what he’s supposed to do.. strike.
    Italy did have far superior teams but were also facing far superior opposition and also played negative football because of old school defensive minded managers who never dared to take advantage of the talent at their disposal, nothing to do with this loser who came back from teams like BD & AM, known to turn 0s into heroes with his tail between his legs.
    Attributing this triumph to Mancini’s choice of his front 3 is like blaming players like Delpiero, Inzagi, Vieri and Baggio for past shortcomings.. Because their movement off the ball was not good enough.
    Finally, Chiesa did actually look like a world beater, and funny enough he had to earn his place in the starting 11, unlike Immobile who was there merely for lack of alternatives. We all suffered long enough and now it’s time to look for alternatives as I think this is the worst no9 Italy has ever had. We clueless fans would like to see a goal every now and then between all the movement..

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