The time has finally come when Italy can begin to exorcise the demons of the Gian Piero Ventura era. We may be more than a year removed from the disaster that was the Azzurri’s missed qualification from World Cup 2018. And even though ten months have passed since Roberto Mancini officially took over as CT, Italy has yet to play a true competitive fixture; the over glorified friendlies of the UEFA Nations League aside.
A new era truly begins with this qualification cycle, as a young group of burgeoning stars will attempt to leave its mark on calcio history beginning with Euro 2020. Gone are the days of an aging Azzurri side featuring heroes of yesteryear, such as Daniele De Rossi, Gianluigi Buffon, and Andrea Barzagli. Gone are the last links to Italy’s last major triumph; World Cup 2006. The time is now for youth and renewal as we kick off the spring season.
The Azzurri kick offf qualifying at the Stadio Friuli of Udine on Saturday against Finland. The Scandinavian side should be a good platform for Italy to get itself in gear before its more difficult group opponents. Italy has played Finland 13 previous times, winning 11 times and losing only once way back in 1912. The Italian rearguard has shut out Finland the last five times the sides have met.
Euro 2020 Qualifying, Italy vs. Finland: March 23rd. 20:45 CET/3:45 EDT. Stadio Friuli, Udine.
Udine has also been a place of tasty home cooking for the Azzurri, who have won six and drawn two in their last eight at the Stadio Friuli. In recent years, three different players have been capped for the first time in games played in Udine; Federico Bernardeschi, Jorginho (2016) and Lorenzo Pellegrini (2017). Wunderkinds Nicolò Zaniolo of Roma and Moise Kean of Juve, among others, will be hoping to join that list.
Mancini will be without three players who likely would’ve started due to injury as he lines up his side: Federico Chiesa, Lorenzo Insigne, and Alessandro Florenzi. With that in mind the front trio is likely where there will be the most uncertainty in the starting XI.
Gianluigi Donnarumma will start in net for Italy. In front of him will be the majority of the Italian caps with Juve duo Giorgio Chielli and Leonardo Bonucci expected to start. Cristiano Biraghi of Fiorentina will start on the left of defense with Cristiano Piccini of Sporting replacing Florenzi on the right. The midfield trio of Jorginho, Marco Verratti, and Nicolò Barella, which functioned so well in Italy’s last matches of 2018, should be a lock to start.
Up front it looks like Ciro Immobile and his poor Azzurri track record will get the nod at striker ahead of in form Fabio Quagliarella. Federico Bernardeschi looks like he’ll start at one of the wing spots, after his recent strong performance for Juve in the Champions League. Meanwhile, most media outlets are reporting that Kean now has an edge over Roma’s Stephan El Shaarawy and Inter’s Matteo Politano to start on Immobile’s other flank.
ITALY (4-3-3): Donnarumma; Piccini, Bonucci, Chiellini, Biraghi; Verratti, Jorginho, Barella; Bernardeschi, Immobile, Kean.
FINLAND (4-4-2): Hradecky; Raitala, Toivio, Arajuuri, Uronen; Lod, Kamara, Sparv, Soiri; Pukki, Tuominen.