If at times on Friday it looked like Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne have been playing together for ten years, it is because they have.
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Zdeněk Zeman must have felt a blush of pride as he watched on at the Olimpico in Rome on Friday.
Italy is the Czech coach's adopted home, and he certainly played his part as the Azzurri scored three goals in a EURO finals match for the first time. After all, it was Zeman who first paired Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne in attack – so, if at times in the 3-0 Group A dismantling of Turkey it looked like the duo had been playing alongside each other for ten years, it is because they have.
Immobile scored 28 goals and Insigne 18 when the two youngsters lined up together at Serie B side Pescara in 2011/12 under Zeman, the guru of attacking football in Italy, in a team also featuring Marco Verratti. Despite going their separate ways at club level, Immobile and Insigne remain huge friends, and they are still laughing and scoring together in the Italy shirt.
“It's difficult to imagine a better start,” Immobile, 31, told EURO2020.com after the victory over Turkey, when he scored one and claimed an assist for Insigne's fine strike. “I’m very excited and happy with the work done by this group, the boss and all his staff. We worked hard to make sure we started this competition at our best.”
Immobile bagged the second of the game from close range after Uğurcan Çakır had parried a Leonardo Spinazzola shot. “Well, my goal is not the result of any real preparation. I kind of owe it to my mum, who made me this way with a sense for goals, which allows me to be in the right place at the right time. I'm very happy about Lorenzo's goal too, because it was the result of a beautiful team move.”
Indeed, it resembled a wonderful rugby move, with the ball moved horizontally from right to left until Insigne’s deadly finish: Domenico Berardi to Nicolò Barella to Immobile to Insigne, who placed the ball inside the far post, beyond the reach of Uğurcan.
“It was thrilling. We played in front of our own fans, we had a slow start but we managed to recover and score three goals in the second half,” said Insigne, a year younger than Immobile at 30. “[Roberto] Mancini told us to remain calm, he said these things happen and urged us to remain focused on the task at hand. That’s what we did and we achieved our goal.
“Our strength is with the group mentality. The coach has developed a great squad, where there are no starters and everyone is at the team’s service,” Insigne continued. Laughter is a common refrain around the Azzurri's Coverciano training base – with the Neapolitan humour of Insigne and Immobile contagious.
Besides having fun, Italy are also doing the business on the pitch. They have won their last nine matches without conceding a goal, scoring 28 goals in the process. They are 28 games unbeaten and have a perfect record when Immobile has scored his 14 international goals (W12 D0 L0). So if the Pescara old boys keep up this form, Mancini may owe Zeman a drink.Download the EURO app