Mancini's 'extraordinary' Italy reach Nations League finals

·3-min read
On target: Italy's Andrea Belotti

Mancini's 'extraordinary' Italy reach Nations League finals

On target: Italy's Andrea Belotti

Roberto Mancini hailed an "extraordinary" performance as Italy brushed aside injury and coronavirus woes to reach next year's Nations League finals on Wednesday with a 2-0 win over Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo.

Andrea Belotti volleyed in a Lorenzo Insigne cross after 22 minutes with Domenico Berardi adding a second on 68 minutes to ensure the Azzurri finished top of League A group 1.

Afterwards Mancini celebrated with his players on the pitch via video chat from his home in Italy where he is isolating after testing positive for coronavirus.

"Qualified! Well done for a desired and deserved result! Extraordinary!!," Mancini wrote on Twitter.

"I have to thank all the lads, who did a great job over the last two years, those who played tonight and those, like me, who were at home," he told Italian television.

"It will certainly be an important tournament given that we will host it in Italy and it will be after the European Championships.

"In a short time we will have two great competitions."

Italy beat Poland 2-0 on Sunday and finished off the job against the already-relegated Bosnians, extending their unbeaten run to 22 matches.

The young Italian side proved solid despite the absence of players including Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, Marco Verratti, Ciro Immobile and Federico Chiesa.

The Bosnians were also without several players because of Covid-19, including Roma forward Edin Dzeko and Arsenal left-back Sead Kolasinac.

The Italians dominated with Berardi starting in place of Juventus forward Federico Bernardeschi in the only change from the Poland game.

Belotti missed two chances in the first quarter of an hour, squandering an Insigne cross and nodding wide.

But the 26-year-old made no mistake on his third chance as Manuel Locatelli won a midfield duel sending the ball through for Insigne whose cross found Belotti to volley in his 10th Italy goal and first since November 2019, also against Bosnia.

Belotti, combining with an impressive Insigne on the night, again threatened after the interval but it was a combination of Sassuolo pair Berardi and Locatelli which paid off.

Locatelli crossed for Berardi whose acrobatic volley beat Kenan Piric for the 26-year-old's second consecutive goal after Poland last weekend and third for Italy.

- 'Better and better' -

In their group, the Azzurri finished one point ahead of the Netherlands with Poland third to secure their berth in next October's finals which Italy will host.

Mancini praised the performance of young players including Inter Milan defender Alessandro Bastoni who made his senior debut against Estonia last week, and also started against Poland and Bosnia.

"He played three games in 10 days and played better and better. He can become the new Chiellini or Bonucci," said Mancini.

"The enthusiasm of the younger lads was fundamental, but also the experience of Bonucci, Verratti, Chiellini, (Alessandro) Florenzi was important."

"We have created a great team, that's the important thing."

Mancini took over after four-time world champions Italy failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup finals.

After qualifying for next year's European Championships with 10 wins in as many matches, Italy remained unbeaten in the Nations League, with three wins and three draws.

Mancini conceded he would now have a selection headache.

"It was already difficult to choose, but after these four to five months it will be even more so.

"Many players have emerged who are proving to be excellent.

"When we have to choose the 23 for the European Championship it will be a big problem. Better to have these problems."

Italy will now be seeded for the World Cup qualifiers, with the draw on December 7.

"We're happy, because we were ranked 20th and now probably sixth," he added.

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