In his first UEFA EURO 2020 column, the 2006 World Cup winner assesses youthful Italy's chances, considers selection dilemmas and offers a few tips on going long in the tournament.
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Since taking over at the helm of the national team, Roberto Mancini has done a great job. He has put together a tight-knit group following Italy's failure to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup and has done tremendously with the youngsters. His side have broken several records, and approach this EURO in the best possible shape.
Mancini has opted for a trio of skilful midfielders from the start. I played at Barcelona, where all the midfielders knew how to deal with the ball – there weren't many ball winners in that midfield! This Italy side have more or less the same philosophy. The midfield has quality, no doubt about it. Mancini's decision has paid huge dividends.
Nicolò Barella had a great championship-winning season with Inter thanks to Antonio Conte. He has grown on
a technical level and is one of those who knows how to do everything: he runs, has quality, and can also score goals. He has been some discovery in that role.
In attack, Ciro Immobile has always led the top scorer charts, but Andrea Belotti and Federico Chiesa are also regular goal-getters. In a European Championship, you must keep it tight at the back. At the 2006 World Cup, we were the team that conceded the least and we won without scoring many [the Azzurri's record in seven games was 12 scored, two conceded].
If I have to pick one name, I would go for Chiesa. He had an amazing season with Juventus. He can be as decisive for the national team as he has been at times for Juve this year. He has developed his game in every sense: mental, technical, willingness to sacrifice to help the team. He offers a lot to Juve.
I played with Giorgio Chiellini. This season he has had a few injuries and did not play regularly, but when he does get on the pitch he always shows his experience and force of personality. He certainly adds something to this team, likewise Leonardo Bonucci.
This one is not really up for debate: Gianluigi Donnarumma, bearing in mind the experience he already has despite being just 22. He is without a club after his contract with Milan expired, so he must ensure that he clears his mind before he gets on the pitch, to stay focused.
It will be important to hit the ground running against Turkey. Arriving with a united squad, full of enthusiasm and planning to spend many days together, with the final the target. It is important to start well and, if you can, save some energy at the end of the group stage. A good start serves to manage energy throughout the tournament.
Can Italy go all the way?
They have an excellent chance. The Azzurri made an impressive journey to this tournament [winning all their qualifiers for the first time]. There are only positives so far. There are teams that are perhaps a little better equipped, but in these tournaments you can never say never.Download the EURO app