"Spain were the team we struggled against most during EURO 2020," admits Roberto Mancini ahead of the semi-final.
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Hired in May 2018, after Italy failed to reach the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Roberto Mancini has overseen an extraordinary period for the Azzurri, his vibrant side going unbeaten for a record 37 games and winning UEFA EURO 2020, beating England on penalties in the final.
Mancini lifted trophies with Sampdoria and Lazio as a player, and then domestic titles with Inter Milan and Manchester City as a coach. The 56-year-old now has the opportunity to claim another piece of international silverware with Italy as they stage the four-team UEFA Nations League finals, though first they face a tough semi-final against Spain.
On facing Spain in Wednesday's opening UEFA Nations League game
Spain were the team we struggled against most during EURO 2020. They are a good team with good players. It will be a good match. [Passing the ball on the ground is] something they are the best at. We didn't have the time to master it at their level. It will be different this time.
Usually, San Siro is full when the national team plays. It would be amazing to win [the Nations League straight] after the European Championship and it would be amazing to qualify for the World Cup early, but it won't be that easy.
On coming home as heroes after EURO 2020
It was great, because we made many people happy, both young and old. So it was something for everybody. Something that made a lot of people happy, maybe also because of these times we have been living through. So it was great. The fans have been enthusiastic, and we play to entertain people. It was a wonderful time.
The best things about the EURO? Probably the relationship we created within the team. It was a group that worked together for 50 days and that’s not easy. They were hard, tiring [days], but there weren’t any issues. It was the chemistry and the love [between them all; that] isn’t something easy to obtain.
On Italy’s rising stars
[Gianluigi Donnarumma] started to play very young. He has great qualities. He is improving year after year in order to be considered the best goalkeeper [in the world]. Of course, we were very lucky to have him as our goalkeeper during EURO 2020.
I also think that Federico [Chiesa] can still develop more. He is getting better on so many levels. He has good physical and technical abilities. He has to grow mentally, to find stability.
On Italy’s proactive style
Every game is full of difficulties. When we play against weaker teams, it’s hard to play because they simply focus on defending.
There isn’t just one way to win. It’s not just playing well. Of course, if we can win by playing well and being entertaining, that’s even better. There are plenty of ways to win. [The perception of the Italy team] has changed, but we can’t forget that Italy is a country that has won four World Cups. [We] are the European champions and have a significant history.