KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- The second set of matchdays, in any tournament, provides the cue for sport’s mathematicians to wake up and start counting points won, points possible and computing the odds when the pressure is racked up further down the match schedule.
Hence Italy, beating Switzerland 3-0 in Rome in Euro Group A, are the first team into the round of 16 with a game to spare. It will be played two, won two. Goals for, six; goals against, none. A 100pc tally to match their 10-out-of-10 record in the qualifying competition.
Two goals from Sassuolo midfielder Manuel Locatelli and another from Ciro Immobile mean that even if the Azzurri claim only one point from their remaining tie against Wales they will top the group.
That would send them flying to Wembley for a second round knockout clash with the runners-up from Group C who, right now, could be anyone out of Austria, Netherlands, North Macedonia and Ukraine.
Defeat to Wales would send Italy, instead, to Amsterdam to play the winners of Group B (Belgium, Denmark etc).
World Cup shocker
Coach Roberto Mancini cannot afford to think so far ahead but, if he were to look back, he could be proud of what he has achieved in restoring pride and progress to a national team drowned in derision after failing to qualify for the finals of the last World Cup in Russia in 2018.
Italy’s command was never in doubt or danger from the moment Immobile popped a header over the bar in the 10th minute and Locatelli followed up by converting a right-wing cross from Domenico Berardi in the 26th.
Switzerland were outclassed and out of hope. They did not win a corner in the Stadio Olimpico until the 35th minute and did not deliver a shot at goal until Xherdan Shaqiri fired over the bar in the 61st minute.
By that time Italy were two goals clear. Locatelli, set up this time by Nicolo Barella, had already rattled a low drive beyond keeper Yann Sommer’s flailing left hand in the 52nd minute. Remarkably this was the first time Locatelli had scored two goals in a game at senior level for country or club.
Two minutes from time Immobile surprised keeper Yann Sommer with a powerful drive from 25 yards.
Italy were home and dry for a 29th successive unbeaten match (and a run of 10 clean sheets). One more unbeaten game needed to equal the record set by the legendary Vittorio Pozzo’s team in the 1930s. That team won two World Cups: Mancini will be happy right now with one European Championship.
The World Cup can wait . . . until next year, anyway.
Roberto Mancini, Italy coach: “Switzerland are a strong side. We knew it would be a tough game and it was. We created several chances and deserved the victory. We were struggling in the opening minutes, but then we pressed them high and forced them to make mistakes. The lads did really well. It wasn’t easy – their second game in five days and it’s so hot.”
Manuel Locatelli, Italy midfielder: “I’m very proud of this [Star of the Match] award but I want to share it with the whole team; I think we are a wonderful group. The first goal was for my family. After passing the ball to Berardi, I followed the action because I know him well and I knew he would do something with it. The second was for all the Italy fans because we play to make them happy again.”
Vladimir Petković, Switzerland coach: “Congratulations to Italy – they play great football, and have for some time. Everyone deserves to be disappointed tonight, but tomorrow from the first training session we move on. I spoke to the team and told them there’s a match left, and three points could get us to the next round.”
Italy: Donnarumma – Di Lorenzo, Bonucci, Chiellini (Acerbi 24), Spinazzola – Barella (Cristante 87), Jorginho, Locatelli (Pessina 86) – Berardi (Tolói 70), Immobile, Insigne (Chiesa 69).
Switzerland: Sommer – Elvedi, Schär (Zuber 58), Akanji – Mbabu (Widmer 58), Xhaka, Freuler (Sow 84), Rodríguez – Shaqiri (Vargas 76) – Embolo, Seferović (Gavranović 46).