Italy lacking morale & more

Italy's Jorginho converting a penalty as he makes amends for his blunder which led to Poland's goal in the 1-1 Nations League draw on Friday.
Italy's Jorginho converting a penalty as he makes amends for his blunder which led to Poland's goal in the 1-1 Nations League draw on Friday.PHOTO: REUTERS

New boss Mancini says team need confidence but lack of quality is glaring after patchy form

BOLOGNA (Italy) • Failing to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in 60 years represented a nadir for the national team, but new Italy manager Roberto Mancini believes that only confidence is needed to turn his side from zeroes to heroes again.

Yet after Jorginho rescued a point for the new-look Azzurri in a 1-1 draw against Poland in their Nations League A Group 3 opener on Friday, it appears that more than one ingredient is missing with Italy still mired in mediocrity.

Jorginho's penalty 12 minutes from time made amends after the Chelsea midfielder's blunder enabled former Napoli team-mate Piotr Zielinski to score for Poland just before the break in Bologna.

"I knew it was going to be difficult. They are a team that, at this moment, have more confidence than us," Mancini said of the Poles, who were led by new coach Jerzy Brzeczek after failing to make it out of a World Cup group comprising Colombia, Japan and Senegal.

"In the first half, we made some technical mistakes, but then in the second, the guys were very good."

He was appointed in May after the four-time World Cup winners flopped in their bid to make it to Russia last November.

And he admitted the rebuilding process would take time as he watched a timid start from the hosts in his fourth game in charge. Key substitutions, including promising forward Federico Chiesa, allowed the former Manchester City boss to save face.

Mario Balotelli, who returned after a near four-year exile, was replaced after an hour and he was criticised on social media for his lacklustre performance.

"Mario needs to play, he is an experienced player on the international stage, but his fitness levels are an issue right now," explained Mancini as to why he hauled off the 28-year-old Nice striker.

Italy struggled early on in all areas, with Zielinski scoring in the 40th minute via Robert Lewandowski's pass after Jorginho was caught in possession.

Mancini's response was to bring on Giacomo Bonaventura, Andrea Belotti and Chiesa after the break and the newcomers provided the spark that was needed.

The 20-year-old Federico, the son of former Italy striker Enrico, was brought down by Jakub Blaszczykowski for a spot kick, which Jorginho converted.

The Azzurri pushed for the winner but had to settle for a point before tomorrow's trip to Lisbon where they will be playing a Portugal side missing Cristiano Ronaldo.

Given Italy's patchy form, having won only once in six matches this year, a 2-1 friendly success over Saudi Arabia, Leonardo Bonucci remains wary of Fernando Santos' men even without Ronaldo.

"We have no room for error," the Juventus defender said. "Ronaldo is very strong, but his absence shouldn't deceive us. Portugal are still a very good team, they are the European champions and we have to give them maximum respect."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 09, 2018, with the headline 'Italy lacking morale & more'. Print Edition | Subscribe