Italy dazzled in Rome once again to capture the hearts of millions watching Euro 2020 with another breathtaking performance.
Roberto Mancini appears to have conjured up a masterpiece with his Azzurri, who have emerged as this tournament’s great entertainers, sweeping Switzerland aside 3-0 to beautifully pair with their dominating 3-0 victory over Turkey.
It is now 29 matches unbeaten and 31 goals unanswered for the Italians, whose belief continues to grow in abundance under the guidance of Mancini.
Now appointment viewing, Italy’s journey this summer is truly compelling, and while France may exude pure joy through the likes of Kylian Mbappe or Paul Pogba, Mancini’s men are instead a relentless unit that topples opponents through sheer speed and movement.
Rarely has an Italian national team endeared itself quite so much to the footballing world, with lazy stereotypes about their style long-since shattered by this ambitious project of Mancini’s.
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Yes they may lack a genuine superstar of their own, but there’s a beautiful simplicity to the way they move the ball with minimal touches, committing teammates into space to pull opponents out of shape.
Like a boxer dazed in the ring by a blur of punches coming back at him, Switzerland unravelled every time Italy stretched them by switching the ball out wide.
Especially with Leonardo Spinazzola, who must have Jose Mourinho grinning at home ahead of their union at Roma this summer, down the left and Domenico Berardi’s excellent throwback display in off the right.
It was the latter who broke the game open: fed the ball with a gorgeous, looping ball on the volley from Sassuolo teammate Manuel Locatelli before immediately knocking the ball into space and stretching his legs.
Manuel Locatelli of Italy celebrates with teammates after scoring a second goal against Switzerland
Instructed to utilise the full dimensions available on the pitch, Berardi soon arrived at the byline at speed before supplying a perfectly-timed square ball to the onrushing Locatelli, whose surge from deep was rewarded with a simple tap-in.
It was a goal that provides a tantalising prospect when the knock-out stages come and Mancini’s side are offered yet more space by more adventurous opponents than Switzerland.
In an era where verticality is prized among the most advanced teams, it is also refreshing to see Mancini’s side vary their attacks so much.
They can break the lines too, of course, but by committing so many bodies forward in the shape of Nico Barella, Locatelli and Spinazzola, a queue of blue shirts could often be found spread across the Swiss penalty area.
Roberto Mancini reacts during Italy vs Switzerland
This Italy relish moving it quickly across the width of the pitch, changing the angle and creating openings, which provided an invitation for Locatelli’s second: beautifully struck low into the bottom right corner.
A third would come through Ciro Immobile, who buried a frustrating 89 minutes before driving home from outside the area.
And yet, as eye-catching as the blue shirts swarming forward were, there was the desire and fundamentals without the ball to protect Gigi Donnarumma’s goal, hence their outstanding defensive record to compliment the progress in possession.
Vladimir Petković’s side were admittedly lacking invention when daring to venture into the final third, with the statuesque Haris Seferovic rarely forcing a blue shirt into a sweat.
But an overload was eventually found in the second half, with Mario Gavranovic gifted a look at goal, only for Giovanni Di Lorenzo to lunge at his feet, Donnarumma to smother his shot and Francesco Acerbi to frantically swipe clear.
Ciro Immobile of Italy scores a third for Italy
Acerbi may well be called on to deputise against Wales for the injured Giorgio Chiellini, though arguably Italy’s best defender last season, Inter Milan’s Alessandro Bastoni, demonstrates the depth at the disposal of Mancini.
Tougher tests await Italy, of course, but a growing enthusiasm and visible commitment to such a distinct, admirable style of play firmly positions them for now as the revelation of this tournament.