BOLOGNA, Italy, Sep 7 – Roberto Mancini said Thursday he was expecting an “emotional” debut in his first competitive game as Italy coach on the eve of the Nations League opener against Poland in Bologna where his senior football career began.
The 53-year-old former Inter Milan and Manchester City manager started his Serie A career in Bologna’s Stadio Dall’Ara in 1981.
four-time world champions Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup, and their new-look squad will face Poland on Friday night before travelling to Lisbon to play European champions Portugal on Monday in their three-team Group 3.
“I made my debut here as a 16 year old and tomorrow again at the Dall’Ara will be another first: the first competitive game for three points for my Italy,” said Mancini.
“It was a good emotion then and tomorrow will be a great emotion.”
Mancini said he was expecting tough games against Poland, who are looking to bounce back after the poor World Cup, and Portugal, in a tournament which counts towards qualifying for Euro 2020.
“This competition is ruthless, Poland and Portugal are stronger on paper, there is no room for error. But that’s okay because we have to grow up fast.
“Italy failed to qualify (for World Cup) because we didn’t score against Sweden over two legs (play-off) and we need to work on being more proactive and clinical.”
Former Manchester City and Liverpool striker Mario Balotelli looks set to start for the hosts, with Napoli’s Lorenzo Insigne and Juventus’ Federico Bernardeschi either side of him in an expected 4-3-3 formation.
To anchor the new younger players, veteran Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini, 34, returns to the squad for the first time since Italy’s World Cup play-off defeat.
“I wasn’t sure if I would return, but the enthusiasm that youngsters bring really pushes you on,” said Chiellini.
“In this training camp there is the atmosphere of calm, desire to move forward, to do something new and not look back at the past.
“There are many young, talented players who I can perhaps help with my experience at playing at a certain level, to teach them what it takes to play with more consistency.
“This Italy side has a lot of talent, we are certainly not lacking that.”
Poland are also in new hands with coach Jerzy Brzczek, 47, appointed after their World Cup group stage elimination.
“It makes no sense to look back, we must focus on the present. Poland are a quality team with great potential,” said former Poland international Brzczek of the 2016 European quarter-finalists.
Brzczek has also shaken up his squad with 12 new players. Eight of his 27-man squad play club football in the Italian league.
The best known Poles in Serie A are Juventus goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny, midfielders Piotr Zielinski (Napoli), Karol Linetty (Sampdoria) and Napoli striker Arkadiusz Milik.