Italy midfielder Manuel Locatelli on Wednesday scored two goals as the Azzurri beat Switzerland 3-0 to become the first team to reach the last 16 at UEFA Euro 2020, and they did it with a game to spare.
Italy’s wingers sprint forward like Ferraris, the midfielders are just as capable at scoring as the forwards and the reserves have looked like starters as a new-look team impress with their offensive flair at the tournament.
They also did it with their 10th consecutive victory.
“I’m fortunate to have great players who enjoy playing soccer, like to have fun and take some risks — which is the essence of soccer,” Italy coach Roberto Mancini said.
As usual — and perhaps the only characteristic carried on from Italy teams of the past — the defense was impenetrable.
It is quite a turnaround for a team who failed to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Italy extended their unbeaten streak to 29 matches — one shy of the team record — and kept their 10th clean sheet in that run.
However, Mancini said that Italy still trail France, Portugal and Belgium on the list of tournament favorites.
“One of them is the World Cup champion, one is the European champion and one has been first in the ranking for quite a while,” Mancini said. “They’ve been shaped over time and it’s only normal that they’re ahead of us, but anything can happen in soccer. It’s not such a sure thing.”
Locatelli’s first goal came following a textbook exchange with US Sassuolo teammate Domenico Berardi midway through the first half.
His second came with a long, low shot shortly after the break that left Switzerland goalkeeper Yann Sommer stranded.
Ciro Immobile added the third with another long-range effort in the 89th minute for his second score of the tournament.
Giorgio Chiellini had a goal waved off by video review early in the match because of a handball.
The Italy captain exited shortly afterward with an injured left thigh.
Italy lead Group A with six points after overwhelming Turkey 3-0 in the tournament opener.
Wales are next with four points after beating Turkey in Baku.
Switzerland have one point and Turkey have none.
“They caused us a lot of problems and we weren’t [playing] at 100 percent,” Switzerland coach Vladimir Petkovic said.
“We weren’t secure on the pitch, which is normally not our character,” Petkovic added.
Locatelli’s first goal was an offensive masterclass.
He started it off with a long pass from within Italy’s half to Berardi streaking down the right flank. Berardi then cut inside and crossed back to the onrushing Locatelli, who tapped in from close range.
“Manu and I know each other very well,” Berardi said. “He was smart to give me the ball and carry on the run.”
“It was an extraordinary goal,” Mancini said.
Earlier in Group B, Russia defeated Finland 1-0 in St Petersburg to claim their first points of the tournament after a loss to Belgium.
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