After missing out on the 2018 World Cup, Azzurri fans have anxiously anticipated La Nazionale’s next crack at an international tournament. While the initial stages of Roberto Mancini’s rebuild of Italy saw some bumps in the road, it hit high gear once Euro 2020 qualifying kicked off. The Azzurri rolled through a group that included the likes of Bosnia & Herzegovina, Greece, Finland, Armenia, and Liechtenstein.
It may not have been a group of death, but it was a group that could’ve given a young Azzurri side some growing pains. Instead, Mancini’s side tore through its ten qualifying matches like a hot knife through butter, outscoring the opposition 37 to 4. That success led many to believe that the Azzurri had emerged from re-build mode and would enter Euro 2020 as a title contender. Perhaps not in the group of favorites, but a dark-horse contender nonetheless.
Just a few months ago, many of us were looking forward to seeing just how far Mancini’s young Azzurri side had come. Big time friendlies were scheduled for the end of this month against England and Germany— two matches that would’ve served as measuring sticks against two of the continent’s elite.
They would’ve said a lot before heading into the much anticipated Euro 2020 in June. Of course, with all that is going in the world with the coronavirus, those friendlies and the tournament proper were rightly postponed until 2021. That extra year will hopefully allow for the world to get back to a sense of normalcy as it eventually recovers from the effects of the pandemic.
There is no doubt that the year delay will be favorable to Italy, as the nation attempts to tackle and recover from the virus. However, it is possible that once things return to normal, the later start date could be favorable from an on the field perspective for the Azzurri, too.
Another Year to Develop Youngsters
One of the most exciting aspects of this incarnation of the Azzurri is its plethora of young talent. Italy is loaded around the pitch. Gianluigi Donnarumma and Alex Meret in goal. Gianluca Mancini, Alessio Romagnoli, and Luca Pellegrini in defense. Nicolò Barella, Sandro Tonali. Stefano Sensi, Lorenzo Pellegrini, Gaetano Castrovilli, and Roland Mandragora in midfield. Nicolò Zaniolo, Federico Chiesa, Riccardo Orsolini, and Moise Kean up front.
That’s a boatload of talent and those are only the guys that are 25 or younger. That list of up and comers gives many Azzurri faithful the hope that La Nazionale is entering a new cycle of sustained success. However, you have to remember that many of those guys were playing in the U-21 Euros just last summer; they don’t have a whole ton of top flight experience.
Therefore, another year under their proverbial belts is certainly not a bad thing. Pellegrini, Mancini and Zaniolo will continue to grow at Roma. Meanwhile, Barella and Sensi will continue to learn from one of Italy’s best managers in Antonio Conte at Inter.
It’s also likely that many on the list who currently play for mid and lower table teams will make the jump to some of the bigger sides on the peninsula. Just think what a season at an Inter, Juve, or Roma could do for players like Chiesa, Tonali, Castrovilli, and Orsolini.
It all adds up to more of the Azzurri’s talent pool being nurtured and developed, as those players get more big game experience at larger clubs. In addition, they’ll get to train with better players on a weekly basis. Which leads us to our next point...
More Time to Build Cohesion and Confidence
This benefit piggybacks off the first point. Italy is still a fairly young squad even when considering its more veteran players. In fact, only Juve duo Giorgio Chiellini and Leo Bonucci have more than 39 Caps. With so many new additions after the failed World Cup qualifying cycle, the squad hasn’t played together much.
In his two years as national team manager, Mancini has only had the Azzurri together for 20 matches. In that time, the Azzurri have 14 wins, 4 draws, and 2 losses. Not too shabby for a rebuilding squad.
However, both losses came early in Mancini’s reign to France (right before they won the World Cup) and Portugal (early in the Nations League). Since that Portugal loss, Mancini’s side has won 11 in a row while going unbeaten in 14 straight. Yet, despite all that recent success, the Azzurri still lack a marquee win.
Beating teams like Greece, Poland, and Bosnia & Herzegovina is good for building confidence, but are the Azzurri ready for the big time? That remains to be seen, but a few more matches as a group throughout the next season (World Cup qualifiers or high profile friendlies) will help Mancini’s side build more cohesion and confidence.
Zaniolo’s Injury Recovery
The thing that probably excites Romanisti most about the rescheduled tournament centers around a certain player’s knee. Not that long ago, Bren discussed Nicolò Zaniolo’s desire to play in Euro 2020. That’s a natural ambition for any star in the making. However, as you know, Zaniolo is coming off a torn ACL that he suffered in mid-January against Juventus.
If Euro 2020 was played as originally scheduled, Zaniolo would’ve been just about five months removed from reconstructive ACL surgery. That almost certainly wouldn’t have been enough for him to rediscover his fitness for a major international tournament. Now with the Euros moved back a year, Zaniolo will have plenty of time to build up to his his top form—and likely even improve as a player.
At this point, Zaniolo should be ready to return to game action when Roma kicks off the 2020-21 campaign—whenever that might be. Which means the new golden boy of the Giallorossi will be able to get another year of first team football under his belt. It’ll be another season for him to mature under Paulo Fonseca’s tutelage both physically and mentally. Zaniolo doesn’t turn 21 until July, so for all the talent he’s shown, he’s still a fairly raw specimen.
The last time we saw Zaniolo in an Azzurri shirt, he was tearing the Armenia back line to shreds. He linked up perfectly with Lazio striker Ciro Immobile (I guess we can get along sometimes), scoring two goals and assisting on another from the right wing. Albeit, Armenia isn’t Turkey, Switzerland, or Wales, but the combo looked like it had the makings of something special. Now, just imagine Nico with another year under his belt and more matches to gel with Immobile and his other Azzurri attacking mates.