Roberto Mancini believes reaching the Nations League Finals could help to ease the “suffering” coming Italy’s way when the World Cup begins.
Italy have failed to qualify for the World Cup for the second time in succession, with their disappointment magnified this time after they won the delayed Euro 2020 in July 2021 but then flopped in the final stages of Qatar 2022 qualifying.
On Friday, the Azzurri tackle England in Milan, a repeat meeting of the European final that Italy won on penalties at Wembley.
The teams have met since that occasion, slogging out a goalless draw at Molineux in June in their initial Nations League clash.
Mancini is hoping this latest reunion stirs something in his players that carries them to victory, given they have ground to make up on Hungary and Germany in Group A3, where England sit surprisingly bottom after four games. The Finals will be contested next June.
“There is enthusiasm for such a beautiful match and something that gives us a reminder,” Mancini said. “I think winning the European Championship after 50 years was quite important.
“Getting to the Finals would give us joy, since from mid-November to mid-December there will be suffering.
“Tomorrow we have a very tough match against one of the best teams in the world, full of talents. We will need that team spirit that has always distinguished us. And then we will have to try to play well. Playing in a simple way is always the best thing.”
— Italy (@Azzurri_En) September 22, 2022
Italy are without the injured Marco Verratti, Sandro Tonali, Matteo Politano and Lorenzo Pellegrini, but even with his midfield resources stretched, Mancini seemingly ruled out a change of system.
“If changing the game system ensured victory, then we would always change it. I don’t think it changes much,” he said. “Our national team has an identity that is what has led us to do well for a long time.”
The game will see Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci line up against England once more, having scored the equaliser that preceded Italy’s penalty shoot-out success at Wembley in last year’s Euros.
Excluding penalty shoot-outs, England have only lost two of their past 26 matches, both against Hungary in June 2022 (W18 D6). The Three Lions are winless in four matches, however (D2 L2), last having a longer winless run in June 2014 (five matches), with one of those games being a 2-1 defeat to Italy at the World Cup.
Bonucci is hoping Italy can harness memories of Wembley to boost their prospects at San Siro.
The Italians need a pick-me-up after conceding 13 goals in their previous seven matches, including a 5-2 mauling by Germany last time out, the first time the Azzurri had shipped five in a game since a 1957 game against Yugoslavia. Italy had conceded only 15 goals in their previous 40 games before the recent sharp decline.
Bonucci said: “We must not forget the beautiful emotions we experienced. I believe that this national team does not lack enthusiasm, even if it must be amplified with victories.
“Tomorrow is an important match to understand where we are on this new path. There is no better match than this to build something important.”
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