Euro 2020 kicks off today and is one of the most open tournaments in recent memory with a number of teams harboring realistic hopes of success.
Many believe that football is coming home with enormous excitement over the building of England. World champion France will have its say, but Belgium and its golden generation should not be forgotten either.
Few people envision Italy, a proud footballing nation that has achieved four World Cup victories and a European crown, as a candidate for Euro 2020.
The failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup left the Azzurri in the desert, but they are now returning to what all Italians will see as their rightful place under the leadership of Roberto Mancini.
Mancini was named in May 2018 and took them to a magnificent race with Italy having not lost a match since September 2018.
In quintessentially Italian flair, the former Inter Milan and Manchester City boss has made him a rock in defense after keeping 20 sheets clean in the 32 games he has coached.
They have conceded just one goal in their last 12 and have won their last eight without conceding a single goal.
Their squad for Euro 2020 has seasoned elite professionals such as Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, but there are also a number of top players who have many years ahead of them who are also in their ranks. Mancini is certainly excited about the future.
“I always believed that Italy had talented players,” he said after Italy secured their place at Euro 2020. “We may have to wait a bit for their maturation, but the talent is still there.
“Sometimes there are situations, like missing the World Cup, but I still think Italian football provides some of the best players in the world.
“That’s why I felt so positive coming into this job, because I knew I just had to show faith and wait for the players.”
We’ll see what this new generation is made of when the tournament opens as Italy takes on Turkey in Rome on Friday night, LIVE on talkSPORT.
talkSPORT.com has selected five stars who should be part of Italy’s very bright future – and might even help the nation launch a serious assault on this summer’s finals too….
Title winner with Inter Milan in 2020/21, there are clearly high hopes for Barella, who has been compared to Steven Gerrard in the past.
The 24-year-old has 23 caps for the national team, making his debut in June 2017.
A box-to-box midfielder with a relentless work ethic, Barella is very comfortable with the ball and he’s a creator too, as he has five goals for his country in 23 games – and is capable of ‘score a lot more.
Looks like the AC Milan goalkeeper has been around forever, but surprisingly he’s still only 22.
Donnarumma is expected to be a free agent at the end of this month and is generating a lot of interest.
Chelsea are rumored to be enthusiastic, although Paris Saint-Germain are seen as the favorites to sign him.
Donnarumma is already somewhat of a veteran despite his tender years having made 251 appearances for Milan, keeping 88 sheets clean.
He remains the youngest goalkeeper to ever play for Italy, having made his debut at just 17 and won 26 caps.
One of the lesser-known young players on the Italian squad, but there are high hopes for 22-year-old Inter Milan’s Bastoni.
A left-handed center-back, he was prepared for international football after advancing through age levels for Italy before making his senior debut in 2020.
He has been hailed as the ‘new Chiellini’ in Italian football and was instrumental in Inter’s Serie A success in 2020/21, playing 33 times for Antonio Conte’s side.
Sport Witness reported that Liverpool were showing interest in the Inter defender, but Conte were unwilling to sell Bastoni before suddenly quitting his post at the end of the season.
Bastoni is unlikely to start for Italy in their opener, but Mancini will be confident to call on him if necessary.
This guy’s name will certainly sound familiar to you.
Chiesa, 23, is the son of former Sampdoria, Lazio, Siena and Italy star Enrico Chiesa.
His father was an Italian football star, winning trophies with Fiorentina, Parma and Sampdoria, and playing in Euro 96 and the World Cup in 1998.
There are high hopes that Federico will be even better, and he has already collected more caps for Italy than his old man.
The winger and striker shone for Fiorentina after making his Serie A breakthrough and joined Juventus last summer, initially on loan with an obligation to purchase.
Juve have had a disappointing season but Chiesa impressed and been their star man for great games, even overtaking Cristiano Ronaldo.
He has great technical skills, is quick and energetic and has a sense of goal, scoring 14 away times in 2020/21.
It could be the summer he sets his international career on fire.
Joining Chiesa at Juve this summer could be 23-year-old central midfielder Locatelli, who impressed Sassuolo immensely.
Locatelli is set to move to Turin, while he has also been linked with Chelsea and Manchester City.
However, his goal will be to make his way into the Italy squad.
Composed on the ball, he orchestrates the game and sets up attacks and is well in the mold of the great Andrea Pirlo.
Marco Verratti is ahead of him in the pecking order, but the Paris Saint-Germain star is battling an injury, so Locatelli could have his chance against Turkey.
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