A little over a week into Euro 2020, the undoubted standout team so far have been Italy.
Three wins from their three group matches without conceding a single goal have many believing that, after years out of the international limelight, the Azzurri can be one of the great sides in world football.
Two dominant performances against Turkey and Switzerland set the tone and, even after eight changes to the starting line-up to face Wales, Roberto Mancini’s side still looked no weaker as they secured a straightforward victory.
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Bucking the trend of the more defensive Italian sides of the past, this new Italy under Mancini are far more exciting and expansive, and all the more enjoyable to watch as a result.
Eurosport Italy’s Carlofilippo Vardelli tells us where it has all gone right and why they expect to go from strength to strength.
A new record was set against Wales. Can you put it in context for us as far as Italian performances at the Euros are concerned?
What Italy achieved after beating Wales was something extraordinary. This is Italy's best result in a European group stage.
They equalled their maximum number of wins (3) and set the record for goals scored (7) in a European group stage.
The closest previous Italy team was that of Dino Zoff, who in 2000 won three games but stopped at six goals.
The Azzurri are also in the lead as regards the statistics on goals conceded (0), equalling the number of clean sheets recorded in 1980 under the management of Enzo Bearzot with Zoff as a goalkeeper, Scirea, Collovati, Baresi, Cabrini, Gentile.
The one recorded by Mancini's side is therefore the best goal difference ever (+7). In addition to all these "national" records, Italy has also achieved one at European level: For the first time in the history of modern European Championships (from 1980 onwards), the Azzurri are the only team to win all three group matches without conceding a single goal. Impressive.
Mancini made eight changes to start. Was that just to give everyone some game time knowing they were through, or was there more to it?
Mainly turnover to rest the players such as Insigne, Immobile, Barella and Spinazzola. In addition, Mancini needed to assess Verratti's condition and to test some players such as Bastoni, Chiesa, Toloi and Emerson Palmieri.
Marco Verratti pulled the strings for Italy on his return
Image credit: Getty Images
Did it give Mancini any answers he was looking for, or give him any selection headaches?
I think Mancini got all the answers he was looking for. He fielded many new players and the team won without conceding a goal. The only "negative" note is having only scored once, and he did say that maybe they could have scored a few more goals, but I think it's a relative regret.
Perhaps on an offensive level, the match against Wales suggested Federico Chiesa as the main alternative to the Immobile-Insigne-Berardi trio, while Belotti and Bernardeschi will remain reserves. I think the coach has very clear ideas for the round of 16.
Now Marco Verratti is fit, will Manuel Locatelli lose his place in the starting XI?
Yes definitely. Verratti put in a complete performance [against Wales], and considering that Barella and Jorginho are almost irreplaceable, Manuel Locatelli's place is at risk. I don't know how Mancini will think, but Verratti cannot be on the bench.
Did anyone stand out against Wales and make a big enough impression to force their way into the starting XI in the Round of 16?
Verratti and, just behind him, Chiesa.
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Italy are heading to Wembley for their last 16 match. What memories will that bring back for supporters?
Italy does not have a great tradition at Wembley, but more than the past I would say that the time is right to think about the present. This national team is a breath of fresh air compared to football in the past where the focus on the defensive phase limited the offensive potential.
Italy have been able to win at Wembley several times but have always played the same style of football. This national team is much prettier and more fun to watch.
It may not have the same group of great players of the 80s and 90s, but it is finally modern, fresh, lively and in step with the times. I like to call it anti-boomer (and by boomer I mean everything that is old and outdated).
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