Mancini reveals final meeting with Vialli as late icon made incredible plea
HE is the international boss who thought about quitting after a late missed penalty led to World Cup heartbreak.
He is worried about the lack of homegrown talent playing in his country’s top division.
And he is seeking more Euros glory to ease the pain of the recent past.
No, not Gareth Southgate.
Because if you think the England boss has had a rollercoaster few years, it is nothing compared to what Roberto Mancini and Italy have faced.
Southgate led the Three Lions to a first major final in 55 years, only for Mancini to emerge triumphant from their Euro 2020 showdown at Wembley, thanks to his side’s greater spot-kick composure.
But from such great heights came a great fall.
It was a year ago that North Macedonia stunned football with a play-off semi-final win which meant Italy would miss a second World Cup in a row.
But it all could have been so different if Jorginho had scored a penalty a few months earlier.
Italy won a spot-kick in the last minute of their qualifier against Switzerland in November 2021, with the score at 1-1.
If Jorginho had netted it, Mancini’s side would have gone into the last round of games top of the group, three points ahead of the Swiss and with a better goal difference.
But just like Harry Kane at a crucial stage of England’s World Cup quarter-final with France, the Arsenal ace blazed his effort over —having had another penalty saved in the away game against Switzerland.
Unlike Kane, Jorginho and Italy had chances to redeem themselves — and blew them. A draw in Northern Ireland sent them into the playoffs as the Swiss thrashed Bulgaria, then came that luckless night against North Macedonia.
Mancini later admitted: “When things don’t go well, it’s clear the responsibility lies with the coach. I thought about leaving.”
But the former Manchester City boss stayed and guided Italy to the Nations League Finals later that year, winning and drawing against Southgate’s England on the way.
When the teams played out a dull goalless draw at Molineux last June, pressure started to build on the Three Lions boss.
When the same venue hosted a 4-0 thrashing by Hungary three days later, the backlash left Southgate on the verge of announcing he would step down after the World Cup.
But he did not, then quickly ended any speculation about his future following the France defeat by confirming he would stay on until at least 2024.
Southgate and Mancini go in search of redemption in tonight’s Euro 2024 qualifier singing from the same hymn sheet.
The England coach warned the falling number of Englishmen featuring in the Premier League will force future managers to look for players in the Championship.
Mancini, in response, said: “We are worse off than Southgate. I don’t know why there are so few strikers, we are very limited going forward.
“We have three teams in the Champions League quarter-finals. Yet out of them, there are seven or eight Italians at most. This is the reality.”
For the record, it is seven. Meanwhile, England’s two clubs in the last eight, Manchester City and Chelsea, provide eight players in Southgate’s squad.
And the England party, even without injured Chelsea pair Raheem Sterling and Mason Mount, looks stronger on paper.
Italy will particularly miss Giacomo Raspadori, whose brilliant goal earned Italy victory over the Lions in September. Napoli’s Raspadori is out with a thigh injury.
But Mancini and Italy have something else spurring them on — the memory of former Azzurri striker Gianluca Vialli.
The most powerful image of the Euro 2020 final was head coach Mancini embracing Vialli, his ex-Sampdoria and Italy team-mate, after Gianluigi Donnarumma denied Bukayo Saka in the shootout.
The former Chelsea striker had accepted a position with the national team during his first bout of cancer in 2018.
But tears of joy at Wembley in July 2021 became tears of pain in January when Vialli died, aged just 58. Heartbroken Mancini said afterwards he was on a mission assigned to him by his “little brother”.
He said: “I went to see Luca in London in December, I was a little scared. He told me, ‘I’m relaxed, don’t worry’. He was the one trying to raise my spirits.
“Gianluca told me we must win the World Cup in 2026 and that he’ll be with us. We hope to dedicate a great victory to him soon.”
In Naples tonight, Italy’s first game since Vialli’s death would be a fitting way for Mancini’s European champions to start that quest.
Source: The Sun
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