Italy can seal its progress to the knockout stages of the European Championship with a game to spare against Switzerland in Rome on Wednesday – but it will not be easy against a coach playing back at his old ground.
There is excitement around the Italy team after its comprehensive 3-0 win over Turkey on Friday night to get Roberto Mancini’s side up and running in the tournament.
Much was already known about its typically solid defence – Italy has kept a clean sheet in each of its last nine matches in all competitions – but it was the team’s attacking flair that caught the eye.
Turkey was well fancied coming into the tournament having impressed in qualification. But Italy’s three-pronged strikeforce swept it aside in the opening match of Euro 2020 and showed it can excel in attack as well as at the back.
As a result, Mancini is struggling to play down expectations around his side, which is unbeaten in 28 matches under the 56-year-old.
“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,” Mancini said after the Turkey win.
Victory over Switzerland would make Italy the first team to reach the knockout stages, regardless of other results in the group. But the man looking to stop them knows the Stadio Olimpico – the venue for Wednesday’s clash – all too well.
Switzerland coach Vladimir Petkovic’s previous job before taking his current role in 2014 was manager of Serie A side Lazio, with which he won the Italian Cup during one-and-a-half seasons in charge at the Rome club.
“Returning to Rome, a wonderful city in which I lived a very important part of my career, is always nice,” Petkovic told Gazzetta dello Sport last week.
“I am linked both to that city and to that stadium, in which I won a historic cup for Roman and Italian football, and of particular importance for the Lazio fans.”
The added importance for fans comes from the fact that Lazio beat its great city rival AS Roma in that 2013 final. The Stadio Olimpico is the home ground for both sides.
Petkovic’s Switzerland appeared set to get off to a winning start against Wales in its Euro 2020 opener on Saturday, only to be pegged back by Kieffer Moore’s leveller in the 1-1 draw.
As a result, the Bosnian-born coach has plenty of work to do to help his side progress to the knockout stages and will need to draw on all his knowledge – including that of the Stadio Olimpico and its pitch – to help get a result against the in-form home nation.