It’s still hard to believe that Italy aren’t making their preparations for this summer’s World Cup, however having failed to qualify, new boss Roberto Mancini has named his first Azzurri squad ahead of a forthcoming round of friendlies. The former Manchester City boss will make his debut as Commissario Tecnico when the side take on Saudi Arabia in Switzerland on May 28, just one week after the end of the domestic campaign.
The Azzurri will then go on to face France on June 1 at the Allianz Riviera Stadium in Nice and will host the Netherlands at Juventus Stadium in Turin on June 4. “Unfortunately, in football there are difficult and negative moments, so we must find a way to bring the Nazionale back where it belongs,” said the new boss in an interview with the FIGC website.
“Italy have always been one of the best national teams in the world and therefore we hope to have all the components on our side to achieve that. My principle objectives are the same as the Nazionale have always had, which is to put a team on its feet quickly that can play to win the Euros and then the World Cup. There are no other objectives.”
With this in mind, the work starts now and – as expected – the CT has handed a long-overdue call-up for his former striker Mario Balotelli. The 27-year-old last featured for the Azzurri in the 2014 World Cup, however the once-troubled frontman has been in superb form since a move to Nice in summer 2016. The former Liverpool and Manchester City striker scored a total of 16 goals during his first year in Ligue 1, eclipsing that tally with 24 netted in all competitions this term.
While the addition of Balotelli was made of Mancini’s own volition, there were some other changes made to the squad due to the international retirements of the likes of Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Daniele De Rossi. Mattia Perin of Genoa will fight it out with Milan’s Gianluigi Donnarumma for the vacant number one spot left behind by Buffon, while veteran Torino stopper Salvatore Sirigu will provide some much-needed experience in that department.
Atalanta defender Mattia Caldara will play alongside Giorgio Chiellini when joins Juventus this summer, and has earned his first call to the Azzurri in the veteran’s absence. Chelsea left-back Emerson Palmieri has also achieved his first place in the Italy setup after the Brazilian-born player acquired Italian citizenship in March 2017. Blues team-mate and fellow full-back Davide Zappacosta joins him on the list, along with talented centre-backs Leonardo Bonucci and Alessio Romagnoli.
Further forward, Ciro Immobile and Andrea Belotti accompany Balotelli, a duo who had fired in 29 and 10 goals respectively by the end of the penultimate round of the campaign, while 24-year-old Sassuolo winger Matteo Politano and Bologna’s 25-year-old Simone Verdi also earned well-deserved calls having scored 10 goals apiece this term.
The latter player added 10 assists to his goal tally, and even turned down a move to Napoli in January after his performances turned the heads of the biggest clubs in Italy. 20-year-old Federico Chiesa was also included in a talented attacking lineup, thanks to another good season with Fiorentina.
These are the kind of players that this Italy side have been so desperately been calling out for, their previous failures never down to a lack of talent at the disposal of the people in charge. Now it is time for Roberto Mancini to mould this skilled group into a team that are capable of achieving something, and he has two years in order to do so.
Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Donnarumma (Milan), Mattia Perin (Genoa), Salvatore Sirigu (Torino);
Defenders: Leonardo Bonucci (Milan), Mattia Caldara (Atalanta), Domenico Criscito (Zenit), Danilo D’Ambrosio (Inter), Mattia De Sciglio (Juventus), Emerson Palmieri Dos Santos (Chelsea), Alessio Romagnoli (Milan), Daniele Rugani (Juventus), Davide Zappacosta (Chelsea);
Midfielders: Daniele Baselli (Torino), Giacomo Bonaventura (Milan), Bryan Cristante (Atalanta), Alessandro Florenzi (Roma), Jorginho (Napoli), Rolando Mandragora (Crotone), Claudio Marchisio (Juventus), Lorenzo Pellegrini (Roma);
Forwards: Mario Balotelli (Nice), Andrea Belotti (Torino), Domenico Berardi (Sassuolo), Federico Bernardeschi (Juventus), Federico Chiesa (Fiorentina), Ciro Immobile (Lazio), Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli), Matteo Politano (Sassuolo), Simone Verdi (Bologna), Simone Zaza (Valencia)