Italy coach Roberto Mancini has made a point of showing his faith in young players, but when it comes to the opening game of UEFA EURO 2020 against Turkey, he is banking on 30-somethings Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci to anchor his defence.
Chiellini is 36 and Bonucci 34 and they have a combined 209 caps for Italy (107 for Chiellini, 102 for Bonucci). At a major final tournament, that kind of experience is huge, but the two defenders have lost nothing of their enthusiasm.
“We are looking forward to playing after this long wait,” Chiellini told UEFA.com. “We started out on this path three years ago and we built a great group with an attacking mentality. The youngsters adapted well to the group. Obviously some knees will be knocking ahead of such an important tournament and cool heads will be needed in some moments, but I’m also happy to have that small bit of light-heartedness and craziness that only the youngsters can bring to a team.
“We have to go into this month with enthusiasm and we will see what happens,” he added. “Things are going well. We feel mentally and physically ready. Now all we can do is step onto the pitch and face the difficulties with enthusiasm and confidence.”
Unity has been a theme of all of Italy’s pre-EURO interviews and press conferences, with Bonucci convinced that this Azzurri side amount to far more than the sum of their parts. “Unlike some teams, we don’t have an outstanding individual like a Cristiano Ronaldo or a Romelu Lukaku. Our star is the unity of this group.”
“After the dark time of failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, we want to fight hard for Italy and the Italian people, and get this national team back to where it belongs,” Bonucci continued. “This project is taking shape: we have enthusiasm, talent, youth and experience.”
The Azzurri have not lost a game since 2018. They have not conceded a goal in 2021. They are a stylish side, but they also get results. “When you keep a clean sheet, that’s not just down to the defenders because if you don’t have the whole team working with you, that wall will come down,” Bonucci said. “I am so glad we’ve not just seen attractive, attacking football, but also everyone getting their hands dirty. As a defender, you always like winning 1-0.”
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