ROME: Roberto Mancini might be laughing now, but the Italy coach will not find it so easy to play down his team’s chances of winning Euro 2020 if they continue like they started.
The Azzurri put in a dominant, swashbuckling display as they flattened Turkey 3-0 in Rome’s Stadio Olimpico on Friday to start their campaign in style.
The victory marked their 28th consecutive game without defeat, leaving Mancini two games away from equalling double World Cup winning manager Vittorio Pozzo’s all-time unbeaten record from the 1930s.
But when asked if his side were now among the tournament favourites, Mancini laughed.
“It was important to start well here in Rome and I think we satisfied everyone, for the fans and all the Italians watching. (But) there are six games to go and there are a lot of good teams," he said.
The second part of Mancini's answer showed that while he does not want his players to face the pressure that comes with being favourites, his ambition is nevertheless to reach the final in six games’ time.
That does not seem like an unlikely proposition after an opening day performance that could not have gone much better, as all of Mancini's big selection decisions paid off.
“Italy were almost perfect, dominating possession and creating a lot of chances without ever leaving themselves at risk,” 2006 World Cup winner Alessandro Del Piero told Sky Italia.
The question of who should lead the line has long been a cause of debate in Italy, but Lazio striker Ciro Immobile answered his critics in his club’s home stadium by scoring his first major tournament goal before setting up Lorenzo Insigne for Italy’s third.
Leonardo Spinazzola’s selection at left back ahead of Chelsea’s Emerson proved to be a great call as the AS Roma man also shone on a familiar pitch, earning the man of the match award after terrorising the Turks’ right flank for 90 minutes.
Domenico Berardi was preferred to Federico Chiesa on the right wing and was heavily involved; his awkward cross led to Merih Demiral’s own goal to calm any Italian nerves.
By fulltime, the Azzurri had scored three goals in a European Championship match for the first time and all of Mancini's decisions were justified.
It was a magical night for the Italians present in the 16,000-strong crowd, and the anger and disappointment of the failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup is now a distant memory.
Based on the opening day evidence, Mancini will not be able to laugh off Italy’s title-winning credentials for long.
(Reporting by Alasdair Mackenzie; Editing by Christian Radnedge)