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Euro 2020: Don’t Underestimate the Azzurri

This upcoming Euro 2020 feels like one of the most open European champions in recent memory. Of course, you have the tournament’s top contenders according to SBOTOP odds, but none of those teams seems overly dominant and still have their issues to sort out.

And outside of that top five are defending champions Portugal, who shouldn’t be ruled out as long as Cristiano Ronaldo is still around. However, there are some question marks as to how far he can take a squad that isn’t quite as strong.

But one country that appears to be getting a bit overlooked is Italy. The Azzurri completed an amazing qualifying campaign where they were just one of two countries with a perfect record.

Yet despite their impressive showing, the Euro 2020 betting odds still have them priced at just 11.00, which is below the very top contenders for the competition.

It feels like a mistake to underestimate Italy, who have been drawn into a relatively easy Group A with Switzerland, Turkey, and Wales. The Azzurri have shown impressive improvements under manager Roberto Mancini and appear to have what it takes to go far in the tournament.

 

Mancini remakes defence

It’s been so far so good for Roberto Mancini. Since taking over the side in 2018 following the disastrous Giampiero Ventura regime, Mancini has gotten the Azzurri back on track with 14 wins, four draws, and just two defeats in his 20 matches in charge.

“Mancio” has done well to refresh an ageing side by giving some younger players a chance to break into the squad. He’s also gotten the Italians back to their roots: defence.

Italy top their group in Euro 2020 Qualifiers
Italy head coach Roberto Mancini giving instructions to his players from the touchline

Italy conceded just four goals in the entire qualifying campaign, with Belgium and Turkey (3) the only countries with fewer. Granted, Italy’s group of Finland, Greece, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Armenia, and Liechtenstein is hardly the strongest, but still, it’s a step in the right direction.

Gianluigi Donnarumma is one of the most highly-rated young goalkeepers in the world, and he will be eager to showcase his talents in his first career major tournament.

He will certainly not be lacking in defensive cover, with the experienced Juventus duo of Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini set to start at centre-back. And with Alessio Romagnoli and Francesco Acerbi, there is adequate cover.

 

Maybe the best midfield in Europe

Italy’s defensive renaissance also has much to do with the massive improvement in midfield. Mancini’s decision to put together the trio of Jorginho, Marco Verratti, and Nicolo Barella has been an inspired one. Those three complement each other so well: Jorginho provides the pinpoint passing and rhythm, Barella provides energy and forward runs, and Verratti does a little bit of everything.

They have emerged as the biggest strength of this Italy side and, barring injury or a horrific dip in form, all three should be secured of a starting spot in Euro 2020. The likes of Stefano Sensi, Lorenzo Pellegrini, and teenage sensation Sandro Tonali will have to settle for backup duties.

Looking around at the rest of the tournament, one would be hard-pressed to find a more optimal midfield combination than Italy’s. France arguably boast more talent, but two of their main midfielders, Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante, have been beset by injuries this season and might not be at their best come the tournament. Spain also have the weapons, but they’ve not quite created the same cohesion.

With a midfield as solid as Italy’s, they will be a handful for any side in the tournament to break down and could go see them make another deep run.

 

Will the Azzurri attack deliver?

On the other hand, though, the biggest reason why that might not happen is because of their attack. That might be a bit surprising for a side that scored 37 goals in 10 qualifying games (second only to Belgium with 40), but it’s true.

Italy have struggled to find a reliable No. 9 for some time now, and it continues to be a question mark heading into Euro 2020. Their top scorer in qualifying was Andrea Belotti with just four goals. Although, he appears set to back up Ciro Immobile, who has been simply sensational for Lazio this season.

Immobile is the current top scorer in the five major European leagues with 26 goals in Serie A. However, he has not proven to be quite as prolific with the national team. He has just 10 goals in 39 international caps.

Mancini tried out several different options during qualifying and friendlies, even going with a striker-less system at one point. But if Immobile continues with his amazing run, he should be the first-choice striker heading into the tournament.

Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Chiesa are the top contenders to support Immobile from the wings, while veteran Fabio Quagliarella could also get in the squad as a super sub.

But while the pressure will be on Immobile to deliver and create Euro 2020 highlights, Italy have shown in the past that a top goalscorer isn’t absolutely necessary to win a major tournament. Luca Toni and Marco Materazzi were their top scorers in 2006 when they went on to win the World Cup.

If the defence can hold up well enough as they did in that tournament and if they can continue to get goals from different parts of the team as they did in qualifying, the Italians will surely be one of the teams to be reckoned with in Euro 2020.

 

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