PARMA • Fabio Quagliarella attributed his new-found inner peace, following years of being harassed by a stalker, to his stunning form for club and country after the 36-year-old became the oldest player to score for Italy on Tuesday.
The Naples native converted two penalties to make it a total of nine goals for his country in a crushing 6-0 Euro 2020 qualifying win by the Azzurri over Liechtenstein in Parma.
Coach Roberto Mancini put out a mix of youth and experienced heads, which paid off handsomely with the other goals coming from Stefano Sensi, Marco Verratti, Moise Kean and Leonardo Pavoletti.
However, it was Quagliarella who grabbed the headlines after he earned his 26th and 27th caps in the past week - 81/2 years since his last Azzurri appearance - as a reward for scoring 21 goals in 27 Serie A games this term, two more than Juventus forward Cristiano Ronaldo.
After overtaking former Roma defender Christian Panucci who was 35 when he netted for Italy in 2008, the Sampdoria striker insisted he "did not feel his age".
"I feel good, I'm very serene. It's a wonderful evening," added Quagliarella, whose stalker was jailed for nearly five years in 2017.
"I want to thank my teammates. After the two goals, they encouraged me to get a third one too, but it didn't happen.
"I thank Jorginho and (Leonardo) Bonucci as they are the penalty takers and they told me to kick (instead). They said: 'The evening is yours, you kick it'. I also thank Mancini who gave me this opportunity."
The Stadio Ennio Tardini crowd was equally thrilled for him, giving him a standing ovation as he left the pitch. He acknowledged it was "a memory I will always cherish".
Calling his call-up "deserved", Mancini said it was also because "he is the Capocannoniere (top scorer) in Serie A this season".
And after his players kept their unbeaten run in the Euro qualifiers going back nearly 13 years, the former Manchester City boss added: "Mission accomplished. The result was obvious, but it was important that we score goals."
Verratti was similarly delighted that despite being "a young squad, we are on the right track".
The Paris Saint-Germain midfielder, who notched only his second international goal in six years, said: "After failing to qualify for the World Cup, we wanted to bring enthusiasm back to the group and to the fans.
"It's important for a midfielder to score, but in Paris, I have a deeper role and we have so many strikers there lining up to score. I am happy with the goal, though."