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Euro king Italy nursing World Cup wound as another rebuild begins
Milan, Oct 19, 2022 (AFP) – Italy are still hurting as the European champions sit on the sidelines while the rest of international football’s elite prepares to descend on Qatar for the upcoming World Cup.
Roberto Mancini will once again have to watch the tournament on television as he begins another Azzurri rebuild while all eyes are on the Gulf.
And the determined coach of the four-time world champions is not hiding the hurt that missing out for the second time in a row has brought one of football’s most important countries.
“The World Cup is a cut that will bleed right to the end, we can only heal it by winning the next one,” he said after drawing England in qualifying for Euro 2024.
Italy’s pain has been doubled because Mancini had heralded their comeback to the pinnacle of the international game, creating a formidable team unit from the ashes of the 2018 World Cup qualification disaster.
His arrival after the misery of Gian Piero Ventura’s tenure which ended with play-off devastation at the hands of Sweden was like a ray of sunshine for a country plunged into darkness.
The 57-year-old threw away the dusty old rule book which said Italy teams needed to be stodgy, cynical and disciplined, and built a team that didn’t just win, but won with style.
Their triumph at Euro 2020 was supposed to be the consecration of Italy’s return to the top table, but instead the partying of the warm summer nights led to a hangover which dragged well into this year and past their shock play-off defeat to North Macedonia.
By the time Italy were left shell-shocked by former Palermo man Aleksandar Trajkovski in his old stadium, back in March, a once cocksure ‘Nazionale’ were already badly off-form.
Mancini had led Italy to 13 wins in a row up to their Euro quarter-final victory over Belgium, during which time they scored 36 times and conceded just twice.
But between then and the North Macedonia collapse they drew six times in nine matches with five of their 13 goals coming in one of their two wins, against Lithuania.
And their displays afterwards hardly gave cause for optimism, thrashings at the hands of Argentina and Germany highlighting just how far behind Italy had fallen once more.
However there are still signs that Mancini has something to give, as recent wins over England and Hungary took them into the Nations League finals and suggested new players like Napoli forward Giacomo Raspadori might breathe some new life into a jaded squad.
And that’s just as well as Mancini’s contract runs until after the 2026 World Cup and he has every intention of seeing it out.
“I’m still young,” Mancini said in March.
“My aim is to win a European Championship and a World Cup, and for the World Cup we will need to wait a bit.
“I like my job, I think I can still have fun and do something special with the boys.”