It may have looked to be an easy three points on paper, but Italy were made to work by Finland on Sunday evening. Win they did and are now on the cusp of qualification to Euro 2020.
Over 16,000 rowdy Finnish fans packed into the quaint Tampere Stadion with their heroes in the midst of a magnificent qualification campaign which sees them second in Group J behind the Azzurri. Inspired by Teemu Pukki and goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky, the Huuhkajat were just 11 minutes from a valuable point.
That said, Roberto Mancini’s Italy didn’t ever look in any real danger. A slow start against the determined Finns, who had won their last four matches, was quickly quelled and the Azzurri took control with it just being a matter of time until the impressive Hradecky was beaten.
After the trainwreck that was the Giampiero Ventura Azzurri era, Mancini has brought someone love back to watching Italy, and has seemingly put an end to horrendous performances against smaller opposition, and even stated after the match ‘the national team belongs to all Italians, we want the fans have a love for the team’.
Guess who’s back! Ciro’s back
It was exactly 733 days between Ciro Immobile’s last two Italy goals. Before he opened the scoring against Finland, he last found the back of the net in the Azzurri shirt on September 5, 2017 against Israel. He started the Serie A season in fine form the Lazio and has taken that with him to the national team, which can only be good news for Mancini.
Another who has exploded in Serie A during the two matches played. His transition from Sassuolo to Inter has been seamless and was Italy’s best player on the night. Breaking from midfield to support the attack, he was close to getting on the scoresheet himself with the only blot being it was he who gave away the penalty on Pukki.
Nevertheless, his dynamism in the midfield compliments Jorginho and Nicolo Barella – his Inter teammate – and should he continue on this trajectory, he will be undroppable for club and country.
GETTING THE JOB DONE
More of a minor point but just over a year or two ago an away match in Finland is one which Italy would have struggled to get a win. It would have been a slog and a performance to draw groans from the fans, then negative hyperbole in the media.
Now, the stamp of Mancini has been put on the team, and while the result never came, it wasn’t that horrendous Italy we have so often seen. Seven consecutive wins, and two away from Italy’s all-time record – nine under Pozzo – Mancini has moulded a young exciting side, while also winning back the fans’ affection. A job well done.