Italy secured a dominant 3-0 win over Greece in Athens on Saturday to extend their perfect start to their Euro 2020 qualification campaign.
The Azzurri were rarely troubled by their opponents and had the victory sealed in 10 first half minutes, as Nicolo Barella and Leonardo Bonucci scored, either side of a fine solo effort from Lorenzo Insigne.
Despite some early Greek pressure, Barella broke the deadlock midway through the half as he sidefooted home an Andrea Belotti cutback, after the Torino striker showed great strength to burst past Kostas Manolas in the box.
The lead was soon doubled as Italy took control of proceedings, with Federico Chiesa leading a quick counterattack and spreading the ball wide to fellow winger Insigne, who showed quick feet to drive forward and bend the ball around Manolas and into the far corner.
Greece barely had a chance to settle back into the match before the Azzurri had secured victory. Emerson Palmieri’s short corner was played back to him, and the Brazil-born full-back’s teasing cross was nodded in by Bonucci.
After the break, Greece saw shouts for a penalty waved away as a Konstantinos Stafylidis cross appeared to strike Marco Verratti’s arm, whilst at the other end substitute Mattia De Sciglio saw an effort whistle past the post.
However, the best chance of the half fell to Insigne after he was sent clear by Chiesa’s defence-splitting pass. He was unable to double his tally though, as goalkeeper Vasilios Barkas stood his ground to block with his chest.
Moments later, Insigne slipped Belotti in and the striker cut back for Chiesa, who miscued his effort and sliced well over from close range.
Ultimately it did not prove costly, as Italy saw out victory comfortably to secure a third win in as many games and consolidate top spot in the group.
Fluid Italy too good for static Greeks
A mixture of youth and experience blended well to give the Azzurri one of their most fluid performances since Euro 2016 and their slick passing and ability to carve open space left a flat Greek defence on the back foot throughout.
Italy dominated and enjoyed 65% of the possession whilst completing almost twice as many passes as their hosts. Indeed, the rapid movement of the ball allowed a technical midfield three of Jorginho, Marco Verratti and goalscorer Nicolo Barella the opportunity to stretch the play, to devastating effect.
Width the key to victory
As Italy piled on the pressure, the stand-out man was Chelsea full-back Emerson, who linked up particularly well with Lorenzo Insigne on the left. With Greece operating a five-man defence, the Azzurri found the most joy on the flanks and former Roma man Emerson was at the fulcrum of everything.
Able to exploit the narrowness of the Greeks and the space left out wide, the Brazil-born defender was not shy in bombing forward and delivered a wonderful cross for Bonucci to score.
Likewise, the more advanced Insigne and Federico Chiesa found plenty of opportunities to run at their opposing full-backs and keep Italy in control.
Mancini has Azzurri firing again
After a humiliating qualification campaign ahead of the 2018 World Cup, coach Roberto Mancini is slowly but surely restoring pride to the national team.
Whereas Italy could not buy a goal under predecessor Gian Piero Ventura, the Azzurri now sit top of their qualification group with 11 goals in their favour and none conceded.
Whilst this is tempered by the quality of opposition in Finland, Liechtenstein and now Greece, Italy have kept clean sheets in six consecutive matches, the third longest streak in their history. The fluidity of play is a positive sign for the future, and qualification for Euro 2020 is beginning to look like a formality.