Having impressed the watching continent in their opening win, Italy now take on local rivals Switzerland on Wednesday, at Rome’s historic Stadio Olimpico.
While the Azzurri effectively need only a point to progress, their less illustrious neighbours are seeking their first win of Euro 2020, following a frustrating draw with Group A counterparts Wales.
On opening night, Italy lived up to both their pre-tournament billing and a stirring opening ceremony, as Roberto Mancini’s men swept past a much-fancied Turkey side on home soil.
Juventus defender Merih Demiral was inadvertently responsible for breaking the deadlock with an own goal last Friday, before forwards Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne then wrapped up a comprehensive 3-0 victory – Italy’s ninth win in a row.
Each of those consecutive successes – several of which were against modest opposition – also saw them register a clean sheet. Against Switzerland, then, the four-times world champions will be looking to reach ten straight wins for only the second time in their long and glorious history – the first such streak having come during qualifying.
In fact, a measure of the mountainous Swiss task is that the Azzurri have not lost at all since September 2018 and have yet to concede a goal so far this year.
With that run representing La Nazionale’s last nine matches, the veteran defensive pairing of Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci have been anchoring their rearguard with characteristic authority. While Mancini has been lauded for introducing fresh blood to the setup, Chiellini is now 36 and his club colleague Bonucci is 34 – and together they have accrued a combined 209 caps for the national side.
That bedrock has helped former Manchester City manager Mancini come out on top in more than two-thirds of his matches to date, as his new-look team have gone undefeated for 28 games and counting. During that time, Italy have married vast experience with youthful exuberance; making them contenders to end a half-century of European Championship hurt at Wembley next month.
On Wednesday, then, the chance to seal qualification with a game to spare may encourage them to capitalise on home advantage by once more taking the initiative against a capable but relatively limited side.
Forced to settle for a 1-1 draw against Wales last weekend, Switzerland will visit the Italian capital knowing that an against-the-odds win would almost certainly seal their passage to the knockout stages, but that a more realistically attainable point should prove enough to keep their destiny in their own hands.
Despite Breel Embolo’s opening goal in Baku, Vladimir Petkovic’s team were later hauled back by a Kieffer Moore header against the Welsh, and have still won only two of their 14 games at Euros past and present.
Although they have been beaten just once in their last 15 matches in the continent’s premier international competition – when also including qualifying – the Swiss have been eliminated at the group stage three times previously, before suffering a last-16 exit in France five years ago.
La Nati’s hopes of surpassing that achievement this time around are built on a solid midfield unit – featuring Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka and Bergamo-based Remo Freuler – while a sprinkling of flair players such as Embolo and Xherdan Shaqiri can carry a threat to Italy’s formidable back line.
Petkovic will almost certainly take a pragmatic approach to the task of matching Europe’s most in-form national side, aware that taking anything away from the Olimpico will put Switzerland at an advantage compared to their other Group A rivals.
Italy European Championship form:
Italy form (all competitions):
Switzerland European Championship form:
Switzerland form (all competitions):