New kids strike for Azzurri

Moise Kean celebrating scoring Italy's second goal against Finland on Saturday. Like Mario Balotelli, the 19-year-old is born to African parents and as Cristiano Ronaldo's clubmate, is one of Juventus' brightest young talents.
Moise Kean celebrating scoring Italy's second goal against Finland on Saturday. Like Mario Balotelli, the 19-year-old is born to African parents and as Cristiano Ronaldo's clubmate, is one of Juventus' brightest young talents.PHOTO: REUTERS

Kean admits to 'stealing Ronaldo's training secrets', Barella also nets against Finland

UDINE • Juventus pulled out all the stops last summer to land Cristiano Ronaldo in a €100 million (S$152.8 million) move from Real Madrid in an attempt to not only bolster their bid for a third Champions League trophy, but to also serve as a mentor to their fledgling stars.

Among the seven-time defending Italian champions' brightest talents is Moise Kean and, on Saturday, the striker showed the benefits of training alongside the star after becoming the first player born in the 21st century to score for the senior team as Italy beat Finland 2-0 in their Euro 2020 qualifying opener.

While the 19-year-old has been used sparingly by Juventus this season, with a single start and three appearances off the bench in Serie A, he has already netted twice in the league and is considered to be one of Italian football's most promising prospects.

Kean, who was born in Vercelli to Ivorian parents, already has several records to his name - he is the first player born in the 2000s to appear and score in a league game as well as play in the Champions League.

And, after notching Italy's second goal - Nicolo Barella also earned his maiden international strike - to get their Group J campaign off to the perfect start, he revealed that he "stole Ronaldo's secrets in training".

He said: "I learn from Cristiano Ronaldo. I always try to be ready and train regularly so that I'm prepared when the time comes.

"This is a beautiful evening, but I know that I still have so many records to beat and I intend to beat them.

"Making history with the Azzurri is one more reason to keep working. There are many goals ahead of me and I want to reach them.

"When I got the call (to join the national team), I was fired up, excited, eager to show what I could do.

"(Fellow striker) Ciro (Immobile) gave me a great assist, and it's thanks to him and the whole team that I was able to score."

Although Kean, who was playing only his second international game, had not been expected to be part of the first XI in Udine, forward Federico Chiesa's injury was his gain as coach Roberto Mancini handed him his first start.

The former Manchester City boss, who gave him his Azzurri debut in a 1-0 friendly win over the United States last November, was thrilled the decision to plump for youth had paid off, with the teenager becoming the country's second-youngest goalscorer after Bruno Nicole.

Hailing "his great qualities", Mancini added: "it's all up to him - the margins for improvement are enormous."

The 54-year-old also hinted it was "entirely possible" Italy could in the future field Kean alongside Mario Balotelli, who was not called up for the qualifiers, in what would be a strike pairing of African descent.

While Mancini will make changes to their line-up at home to likely whipping boys Liechtenstein tomorrow to "mainly bring in some freshness", he knows the new players who have been integrated into the national set-up are showing they have the temperament and quality to play on the international stage.

He said: "Our youngsters have qualities that cannot be denied, it does not take much to understand it."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, DPA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 25, 2019, with the headline 'New kids strike for Azzurri'. Print Edition | Subscribe