Fabio Quagliarella attributed his newfound serenity after years of a stalker nightmare to his stunning form as the 36-year-old on Tuesday became the oldest player to score for Italy.
The player from Castellammare di Stabia near Naples converted two penalties in a crushing 6-0 UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying victory by the Azzurri over Liechtenstein in Parma.
Italy top Group J with six points after also beating Finland 2-0 in Udine on Saturday, with goals from youngsters Nicolo Barella, 22, and 19-year-old Moise Kean.
Bosnia threw away a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 with Greece and both are behind Italy on four points followed by Finland on three.
Serie A top-scorer Quagliarella has earned his recall to Roberto Mancini’s new-look Italy thanks to his 21 goals in 28 league games, two more than Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo has managed for Juventus.
He marked his return for the Azzurri after nearly nine years by converting a penalty on 35 minutes, adding a second, also from the spot, just before the break.
The UC Sampdoria player at 36 years and 54 days became the oldest player to score for Italy, overtaking Christian Panucci, who was 35 years and 62 days old when he netted in 2008.
“I don’t feel my age, I feel good and I’m very serene,” said Quagliarella, whose career had been blighted by a stalker who forced him to leave Naples in 2010.
For months, a former policeman sent hundreds of anonymous letters to Quagliarella’s club, SSC Napoli, claiming the player was involved in organized crime, pedophilia and drug trafficking.
Quagliarella was only able to tell the whole story in 2017, when his persecutor was sentenced to almost five years in prison.
“It’s a wonderful evening,” the veteran forward said after scoring his ninth goal in 27 caps for Italy.
His first international start was in March 2007 and his previous was in June 2010, before Mancini revived his international career.
“Quagliarella deserved this call, because he is the capocannoniere [top scorer] in Serie A this season,” the Italy coach said.
“I want to thank my teammates,” Quagliarella said. “After the two goals, they encouraged me to get a third one too, but it didn’t happen.”
“I thank Jorginho and [Leonardo] Bonucci, because they’re the penalty-takers and they told me to kick. They said: ‘The evening is yours, you kick it,’” he added.
Stefano Sensi had headed Italy in front after 17 minutes with Marco Verratti adding a second after 32 minutes.
Kean nodded in his second Italy goal on 69 minutes, with substitute Leonardo Pavoletti, 30, who got his first Italy start in the second half to replace Quagliarella, adding a sixth.
“After failing to qualify for the [FIFA] World Cup we wanted to bring enthusiasm back to the group and to the fans,” Verratti said.
Quagliarella and Sensi started up front with Juventus forward Kean in a three-man attack.
The veteran striker was denied early before Leonardo Spinazzola set up Sensi to head in for his first senior Italy goal after 17 minutes.
Verratti broke through to curl in the second after 32 minutes for his second goal in the Azzurri jersey.
Italy were awarded a penalty for a Nicolas Hasler handball and Quagliarella made no mistake.
A searing Kean effort clipped the bar before Liechtenstein’s Daniel Kaufmann was sent off for handling a Verratti clearance, with Quagliarella taking the second penalty on 43 minutes.
Pavoletti got his senior Azzurri debut and Quagliarella received a standing ovation as he left the Stadio Ennio Tardini pitch.
“This standing ovation is a memory I will always cherish,” Quagliarella said. “I also thank Mancini, who gave me this opportunity.”
Four minutes later, the Cagliari forward completed the rout off a rebound as Italy — European champions in 1968 and runners-up in 2000 and 2012 — maintained their 13-year unbeaten run in qualifiers.
“Mission accomplished,” Mancini said. “The result was obvious, but it was important that we score goals.”
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