Roberto Mancini insisted Italy must not forget what they have achieved recently as his side prepare for a crunch clash with Northern Ireland.
The Euro 2020 winners sit above Switzerland in World Cup qualifying Group C on goal difference alone, with both teams currently on 15 points after a 1-1 draw between the pair on Friday.
With only the team that finishes top progressing, slipping to second place would see Italy condemned to the play-offs as the Azzurri flirt with missing the World Cup for the second time in a row.
However, as Italy prepare for their final game with Northern Ireland – who are in third with eight points – Mancini implored his team to remember what they have achieved so far, having previously embarked on a world-record 37 matches without defeat.
“We mustn’t think negative thoughts,” Mancini said at Sunday’s pre-match news conference. “We know it’s an important match, we’ll go there aiming to win and know that Northern Ireland are difficult to beat here.
“If we do miss out, then we’ve got the opportunity of a make-up exam in March, but we want to go through tomorrow and that is what we must focus on.
“Nobody believed in us when we started this journey three years ago and we know there have been difficult moments along the way. It’s a delicate match tomorrow, but the lads mustn’t forget everything they have achieved already.
“They mustn’t feel so much anxiety, they have to play with freedom and concentrate on what needs to be done.”
— Italy (@Azzurri_En) November 14, 2021
Italy, however, are by no means a certainty to cruise past Northern Ireland, given the Azzurri have never won in Belfast.
Indeed, a 2-1 loss in 1958 saw Italy miss out on the World Cup that year and Mancini appreciates the difficult task that awaits his team at Windsor Park.
“I don’t go back that far, but I do know the history,” Mancini responded when asked about Italy’s previous record in Belfast.
“It’s not an issue of scoring many goals, it’s about playing the game. Northern Ireland haven’t conceded a goal yet at Windsor Park in this group and there must be a reason for that.
“We have to win and if we score lots of goals that’s even better. We certainly won’t go for high balls into the box, as Northern Ireland are rather tall and that’s their bread and butter.
“We must try to play the ball quickly to feet, what we’ve been doing for the last three years, really.
“All the teams have injuries at the moment, but we remain a strong squad and will aim to get a positive result.”
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