Roberto Mancini praised Italy’s second-half improvement as they booked their place in the Euro 2020 finals with a 2-0 victory over Greece.
The Azzurri knew three points would be enough having won their first six matches but they did not make the breakthrough at the Stadio Olimpico until Jorginho’s penalty in the 63rd minute.
Federico Bernardeschi netted a second from outside the box with 12 minutes to go to make it a job ultimately well done.
Mancini said on gazzetta.it: “All the matches are difficult, Greece did not want to play. In the first half we forced too much play, then in the second half it was much better.
“We’ve always been in a position to work well with everyone from day one. We created a team in a short time. I made the players believe in their qualities, the players are there for me. It’s a team of character that fights and plays, and in the second half we saw it.”
Chelsea midfielder Jorginho added: “It is a fantastic result for what we have experienced. We have worked hard and we deserved to reach this goal. We are really happy.”
The Stadio Olimpico will open next summer’s tournament on June 12, and Jorginho said: “We’re a good group, we’re all going the same way. It’s nice to work like this. I’m sure (the fans) will give us a hand also in June. We will do everything to make our fans enjoy the games by winning.”
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England’s disappointing defeat in the Czech Republic could have been down to a number of players heading into the international break in poor club form, according to Harry Maguire.
The Three Lions missed the chance to seal qualification for Euro 2020 after slipping to a 2-1 loss in Prague as another poor defensive display allowed the hosts to fight from a goal down to take the points.
Maguire, who became the world’s most expensive defender when he left Leicester for Manchester United for £80million in the summer, has been unable to help Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men end a run of poor form which has left the Red Devils 12th in the Premier League.
He was once again paired alongside Everton’s Michael Keane at the heart of England’s defence, with the Toffees enduring an even more painful start to the campaign that has seen Marco Silva’s side lose five of their opening eight games.
Add the fact that Gareth Southgate selected Danny Rose at left-back despite an indifferent run of form at Tottenham and the defence on show at the Sinobo Stadium was not exactly brimming with self-belief.
Asked if there was a lack of confidence among the back-line Maguire replied: “Yes, maybe.
“We bring our club football into international level. It was a difficult game. Don’t get me wrong, we started sloppy. We took the lead in the game but we didn’t deserve to.
“The second half we controlled the game a lot more than the first half but we gave them a sloppy goal to win the game. We do need to improve on that.
“Obviously you are wanting to develop partnerships. Sometimes in international level you can’t really do that.
“You have players who aren’t playing for their clubs so they don’t get selected, and you have players that pick up injuries.
“You’ve got to adapt. That’s one of the tricky parts of playing international football, every camp you’re normally playing alongside different players – you don’t want to be – and need to develop new partnerships.
“But listen, there’s no excuses. We need to be better than Friday night. We need to be better going forward. We need to be better on the ball. And we certainly need to be better at keeping the ball out of the net.”
While admitting the performance was not up to task, Maguire refuted claims the defence has been poor in recent England internationals – despite looking shaky in a 5-3 win over Kosovo last month and gifting the Netherlands goals in the 3-1 Nations League semi-final defeat at the start of the summer.
“This ‘run of shipping goals’ I don’t know where it’s come from apart from the Kosovo game,” he said when asked if Southgate had addressed any defensive shortcomings.
“We were 5-1 up in the game and obviously we’d made a mistake early on in giving them a goal. But we were 5-1 up and maybe we took our foot off the gas and have to learn from that.
“We’ve conceded two on Friday and previous to that we’ve not conceded numerous goals so I don’t know where it (the claim they are ‘shipping goals’) has come from apart from the last couple of games.
“We will work hard and try and improve. But shipping lots and lots of goals over the last couple of years we haven’t done.
“It just shows us that we’ve still a lot of work to go. We’re still in a strong position in the group and now we have got to finish the job off.
“We do need to nullify little areas to take into the Euros because if we do manage to qualify, we have to nullify these mistakes.”
Wales welcome Croatia to Cardiff in a crucial Euro 2020 qualifier on Sunday.
Victory for the visitors will secure their place at next summer’s tournament, while Wales need victory to keep on their coat tails and sustain their hopes of reaching the tournament too.
Croatia eased past Hungary 3-0 on Thursday to extend their lead at the top of Group E, while Wales were held to a 1-1 draw in Slovakia.
Ryan Giggs’ side continue to struggle to gel under his guidance, and that’s where we start our talking points…
QUALITY TO WIN, BUT QUESTIONS REMAIN
Harry Wilson believes Wales have the quality to beat Croatia on Sunday and, it’s true, they do. ‘
Giggs is overseeing a Wales generation that might just be – player for player and in terms of areas mined for talent – the best ever, and certainly in the last three decades.
The question is, whether Giggs is the man to turn the rough diamonds into gems? Right now, he certainly isn’t doing that.
Regardless of injury (Aaron Ramsey has not yet played in this qualifying campaign), acceptable peaks and troughs encountered rearing youngsters and lack of a potent striker (Wales, for all their unearthing of talent, haven’t produced a quality central striker since John Hartson), Giggs is not setting the world alight as was hoped when he took the job.
Juventus’ Ramsey was left at home on Thursday because of a tight abductor muscle in his thigh – Giggs might be protecting him in order to play on Sunday. With the likes of flamboyant Bournemouth forward David Brooks, Cherries team-mate Chris Mepham and fellow defender James Chester all out injured, Giggs still had the luxury of leaving Wilson on the bench in Trnava.
Joe Allen was at his terrier-like best in midfield, alongside RB Leipzig’s Chelsea loanee Ethan Ampadu – the 19-year-old can’t get a game for the Bundesliga side at the moment but continued his development with another confident international display. Daniel James’ rapid rise continued and he put on a delicious assist for Kieffer Moore’s goal.
Jonathan Williams’ career resurgence at Charlton – he is the Championship’s joint-leading assist maker this season – continued, while Joe Rodon, 21, put in another assured performance in just his third cap.
The worrying thing is Wales had more than enough quality and chances to put Slovakia to sleep. You wonder whether Giggs has the ability to jolt them from their slumber.
CROATIA TO GO FOR THE KILL
We could be in for entertainment in Cardiff with Wales aware they need an effervescent performance against the group leaders, who themselves will be going all out for the win that would confirm their ticket for Euro 2020.
Since reaching the highs of the World Cup final in Russia 18 months ago, the positive vibe around Vatreni (The Blazers) has worn a little thin following a fallow period.
Since that spirited 4-2 defeat to France, Zlatko Dalic’s side have won just six games from 13, losing four, including a 6-0 thrashing at the hands of Spain in the UEFA Nations League a year ago.
They’ve also been far from flawless in Group E, defeated in Hungary in March and held in Azerbaijan just last month. But they were far too good for Wales in Osijek in June, the performance far more impressive than a 2-1 win suggests.
And they’ll come to Cardiff with confidence after cracking Hungary open in Split on Thursday, easing to a 3-0 win by half-time.
Dalic had the luxury of removing captain Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic midway through the second half and that trio will likely form a formidable front six also featuring Mateo Kovacic, Ante Rebic and Bruno Petkovic in the Welsh capital.
Petkovic scored a brace against Hungary and is in venomous form, scoring five goals in six games for Dinamo Zagreb this season, while he has glided onto the international stage with four goals in his first six caps.
With Modric also in fine form, Dalic will take his side west looking to get the job done.
IS RAMBO READY FOR BATTLE?
Wales fans would have been sincerely sorry not to see attacking spark Ramsey not make the trip to Trnava on Thursday, with the 28-year-old having not featured for his nation in 11 long months.
The Dragons have missed his fire. Gareth Bale may be the poster boy, but Ramsey’s role in this Welsh side is arguably more significant.
He plays a lot further forward than he ever did during his Arsenal days. Unburdened by defensive shackles he is chief creator for Wales and his absence was keenly felt during their semi-final exit to eventual champions Portugal at the last Euros.
A highly intelligent craftsmen, Ramsey’s absence has been even more keenly felt during this inconsistent campaign. He will be delighted to see a new emerging generation springing up alongside him, but with Bale the spearhead in attack, Wales have sorely lacked their lynchpin to knit it all together.
It was hoped he’d been spared a trip to Slovakia in order to rest his worrisome thigh in a bid to be fully fit for Sunday – veteran centre-back Ashley Williams has been called back into the squad but also did not feature against Slovakia.
Giggs will have had one eye on the Croatia clash, of the belief he will need his strongest XI to combat the creativity at Dalic’s disposal. But there are fears Ramsey could miss out altogether and his thigh twinge is worse than first feared.
Even with Ramsey available the task at hand is a lofty one. But if their true talisman trots onto the field, the rest of the players and a nation will stand 10ft tall.