A victory over Liechtenstein usually doesn’t come with much fanfare for a country of Italy’s footballing stature, but you can certainly understand why Azzurri fans are buzzing given it confirms how far they’ve come since 2017.
Thanks to a sizeable, yet not always comfortable, 5-0 victory Roberto Mancini now finds himself on the brink of Azzurri history after equalling Vittorio Pozzo’s run of nine consecutive victories back in 1938/39.
A win over Bosnia and Herzegovina in November will establish a new all-time mark for the national team, and while it’s certainly a welcome sight for those that had to endure the embarrassment of missing out on last summer’s World Cup, it isn’t the ultimate goal Azzurri fans used to success are likely craving.
Mancini knows that all too well, as after Tuesday’s match even he noted he’d rather win a World Cup (or Cups in Pozzo’s case), an Olympic gold or a European Championship than establish a record for wins.
To be frank, there’s no guarantee Italy’s current run will result in success next summer, as nothing is ever guaranteed in this game, but praise must certainly be heaped on the current Azzurri boss for transforming a side that had hit rock bottom just two years ago.
Tasked with trying to restore the identity, mentality and confidence of a side that failed to qualify for the World Cup under Gian Piero Ventura, things didn’t exactly change overnight with Mancini despite his wealth of experience coaching big clubs in Italy, England and Turkey.
One win from his first eight matches at the helm underlined just how steep of a rebuild Azzurri fans were actually in for, with that lone victory coming against Saudi Arabia – not exactly a world powerhouse.
It was also the only match in which Italy registered more than one goal over the course of 11 matches as try as they might, Mancini’s men just couldn’t wipe that disappointing night at the San Siro against Sweden from their memory.
The lessons learned in those friendlies and Nations League matches are now paying off however, as a commitment to attacking football and youthful energy are on full display every time the Azzurri take to the field.
It’s even become common place for Mancini’s men to score with regularity and with different faces, as their 25 goals via 15 players in eight qualifiers shows that while Italy might not have a Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo or Neymar to count on, they make up for that with a strong collective.
So strong that tough decisions will have to be made before next summer’s European Championship, as some players who have featured in this qualifying run will unfortunately have to be left behind.
Those choices will come in due time, and Azzurri fans will no doubt hotly debate who is included and who isn’t as they always do before a major tournament.
What is certain however is that all of Italy should put their faith behind Mancini, as the work he’s done since taking over after that fateful match against Sweden not only has the Azzurri matching longstanding records set by Pozzo, but also dreaming of bringing home the hardware like he did back in the 1930s.