Roberto Mancini is the mastermind behind Italy's transformation and Christian Vieri believes the Azzurri will be in the mix to win Euro 2020.

Italy are among the contenders at the rescheduled European Championship – delayed a year due to the coronavirus pandemic – as the 1968 winners prepare to face Turkey in the tournament's curtain-raiser in Rome on Friday.

A proud football country but a national team on its knees after failing to qualify for Russia 2018, their first World Cup absence since 1958, Mancini has overseen a drastic recovery following his appointment more than three years ago.

Banishing the nightmares of Gian Piero Ventura's dismal tenure, Italy are in the midst of a 27-game unbeaten streak – a run dating back to September 10, 2018. Heading into Euro 2020, Mancini's men have won eight successive games in all competitions without conceding a goal for the first time in their history.

Italy were one of only two teams – alongside Belgium – to win 100 per cent of their games during the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign (10/10). The Azzurri scored 37 goals in their 10 qualification matches (3.7 per game) – this was the same tally in qualification for Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup combined (37 goals in 22 games).

As Italy gear up for their Euro 2020 Group A opener at the Stadio Olimpico, where they have never lost in a major tournament – they have won six and drawn two in the World Cup and European Championship combined, having not conceded a goal in each of the last seven fixtures – Azzurri great hailed the impact of Mancini.

"Mancini is one of my best friends," former Inter, Milan and Juventus striker Vieri, who earned 49 caps for Italy from 1997 to 2005, told Stats Perform.

"He did an amazing, amazing job. Getting the Italian team back together and getting all the fans in Italy to watch again because no one was watching.

"They have big players, big quality players – real quality like what we used to have 10-15 years ago. We had a situation for 10-15 years after the 2006 World Cup, we didn't have any big players. That's how it is sometimes, you don't have big players coming up.

"Now we have big players, we have experienced players. They play fantastic football and haven't lost for so many games, but they are really, really strong."

This is Mancini's first major tournament as Italy head coach. As a player, he only featured at one major final: he played four games at Euro 88, scoring the opening goal of the whole tournament during a 1-1 draw with hosts West Germany.

Italy, who will also face Switzerland (June 16) and Wales (June 20) in Group A, are taking part in their 10th European Championship finals. They won the tournament in their first appearance (1968) and have since reached the final twice without lifting the Henri Delaunay trophy (2000 and 2012).

"I told him [Mancini] I don't know if you're going to win the Euros, but you're going to get there," added Vieri, who scored 23 goals for the national team. "The team is strong, and they have big players again and everyone is following."

Another former Italy international, Walter Zenga, also lauded Mancini's work at the helm of the four-time world champions, while highlighting the quality of the entire coaching staff that includes Gianluca Vialli and Daniele De Rossi.

A three-time winner of the IFFHS World's Best Goalkeeper award, ex-Inter star Zenga – regarded as one of the greatest keepers of all time – played 58 games for Italy between 1987 and 1992, including appearances at the World Cup in 1986 and 1990 and Euro 88.

"The important thing right now is we have a great coach. Not only a great coach but a great standard of staff," said Zenga, who still holds the record for going 518 minutes (five consecutive clean sheets) without conceding a goal at the 1990 World Cup.

"All the technical staff were involved in football – Vialli, De Rossi, et cetera. This helps the team to grow up and arrive at the Euros with a big chance to win."

A lot of attention will be on number one goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, who has played a key role amid Italy's undefeated streak under Mancini.

There is also uncertainty over Donnarumma's future, with the 22-year-old star out of contract at Milan and tipped to join Ligue 1 giants Paris Saint-Germain.

"You have to consider one nice thing in life and football: you can improve yourself every day," Zenga said when asked about the quality of Donnarumma, who debuted as a 16-year-old for Milan in 2015. "There's no one day that you say you're at the top level, especially when you're 22.

"I've met him a lot of times in Milan and his character is very strong. He is strong because either if he makes a big save, makes an unbelievable game or the worst game of his life, he looks like he is [in] complete control of himself. This is the most important thing in life. He is the top goalkeeper in Italy."

Inter great Walter Zenga dismissed criticism of Antonio Conte and his side as they close in on the Scudetto, while insisting mentality is the key to the Nerazzurri making the leap from Serie A to European success.

Not since their treble-winning season under Jose Mourinho in 2009-10 have Inter claimed the Scudetto, rivals Juventus dominating domestic Italian football with nine consecutive Serie A titles.

But Inter – led by head coach Conte and spearheaded by Romelu Lukaku – are on the cusp of glory this season, with the Nerazzurri 10 points clear atop the table after 32 rounds.

Only Atalanta (73) have scored more goals than Inter (71) this season, while Conte's men have the joint-meanest defence in the league alongside Juve, having conceded 29 goals with six rounds remaining.

However, Conte and Inter have still been criticised for their performances in 2020-21.

Regarded as one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time, Zenga – who amassed 473 appearances for Inter, winning two UEFA Cup titles, the Serie A trophy and Supercoppa Italiana during his time at San Siro – was asked about the criticism and he told Stats Perform News: "Now listen, you don't have to make a confusion about this point because the only person that knows everything is the coach because the coach has the players every day, takes training, decide the tactics, decides everything because he knows the quality of the player. 

"All the other people me and you included, we cannot talk about if they play good or not because first of all, we never watched one training, secondly we don't see from the stadium, we watch on TV and it's totally different. We make a confusion between playing well, tactics and everything. But then we forget one point, the only real things important in football are the end of the game, the table, what the result is, rankings and if you play in the Europa League, Champions League or whatever. These are the only important things. Then if we want to talk about one club like Inter who are first in the standings, they won 11 games in a row, they are almost close to winning the championship. 

"So, if it means that they play poor football, I would like to be a coach that plays poor football and wins the league! How many times do you read an interview about some coaches that say we play very, very well but we missed a chance, we are still in the middle of the rankings. We are in trouble, but we play well, we play well. With Crotone, two years ago in the first division we played very well but we got relegated to the second division. Probably if we play worst, and we just pray for a draw in some games probably we would still be in the first division but we are looking for our philosophy to play, play, play. But any coach, any game that they have, the philosophy for themselves depends on the quality of the player, depends on the quality of the mentality of the player."

Lukaku has been instrumental for Inter, scoring 21 league goals this term – only Juve's Cristiano Ronaldo (25) has managed more.

The Belgium international has barely missed a beat since Inter splashed out a club-record €80million to prise him from Manchester United in 2019, the Italian giants quickly moving on from former captain Mauro Icardi – who was deemed surplus to requirements by Conte.

Lukaku – linked with a return to Chelsea, as well as Clasico rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona – has netted 44 times in 67 league appearances for Inter, while he boasts an overall total of 61 goals in 90 matches since arriving in Milan.

"Icardi, he had a great balance between games and goals. He was a killer in the box. It's not easy to replace a player with this goal average," said Hall of Famer Zenga, who last coached Cagliari in 2020.

"Lukaku, Conte wanted him with his whole soul and heart. When one player arrives and he knows that the coach believes in him 100 per cent, he gives 200 per cent for him and himself not to disappoint the coach. 

"What I appreciated about Lukaku that I know him personally, he is a quiet man and a gentleman. He follows only one way, to close the mouth to everybody, work and work hard, not for himself, for the team. And this is the difference between one big player and one normal player. Talent is not enough.

"Now he is the top striker in Italy in my opinion. I think that now, there is not one club around the world that doesn't want him."

For all of Inter's success this season, their Champions League campaign left a sour taste.

Inter – Europa League finalists in 2019-20 – looked on track to the Champions League last 16 in a group featuring Madrid, Borussia Monchengladbach and Shakhtar Donetsk. Instead the 2009-10 winners finished bottom.

Conte's Inter also failed to make it out of the group last season, taking a backseat to Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League.

As Inter dream of a 19th Serie A trophy, are they capable of mounting a European challenge next term or do they require reinforcements in the transfer market?

"In Europe you play different. In the Champions League you play totally different, in the Champions League it looks like no tactics, only who is stronger," said the 60-year-old Zenga, who emerged from Inter's youth team in 1978 before leaving the club permanently in 1994.

"We are thinking about tactics all the time [in Italy] and this is our mentality. If you see the game of the Italian league, it is a very strong game, if you think that is boring, in the stands it is not boring because if you are involved, you have to take an aspirin after the game because it's so strong. If you see the Spanish league, it looks like they play slow, but when you play against the Spanish teams, [sometimes] you don't touch the ball because you don't know where they are. 

"In Germany or in France, it is less interesting the season, then when you play against them in in Champions League, you have to make a big effort because you're thinking, 'Oh in Germany there are only two teams, Bayern and Borussia Dortmund, it is not competitive championship' and then when you play against them, you see it is so strong.

"So it's a question about the mentality and everything. To win in Europe in my opinion, you have to play to win. And probably you find either the clubs like Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City, like this team that if you read the line-up specially at the top… the talent and the quality, class is the difference in Europe. I don't know what is in the mind of Conte or of the management of Inter, but in Europe, I think that you need the world-class players."

Zenga added: "Don't forget, you can buy either three-four great players, then the most important thing is that all good players they must play good together. I buy the best central defender, I buy the best striker and I put together and the quality together doesn't work. If we follow this idea, Inter of the [Massimo] Moratti era with [Christian] Vieri and Ronaldo up front, they should be winning every single day."

Inter great Walter Zenga believes the European Super League will go ahead despite strong opposition and criticism as the former Italy goalkeeper had his say on the "big mess".

The 'big six' from the Premier League – Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham – have collaborated with Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Inter, Juventus and Milan to reveal plans for a new midweek club competition to rival UEFA's Champions League.

Those founding members would automatically qualify each season no matter where they finished in their respective domestic leagues.

UEFA and the European Club Association (ECA) have condemned the new competition, while FIFA has also disapproved of the move as fans and pundits continue to slam the breakaway league.

Regarded as one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time, Zenga – who amassed 473 appearances for Inter, winning two UEFA Cup titles, the Serie A trophy and Supercoppa Italiana during his time at San Siro – said he is not a fan of the Super League.

"It's a big mess," the 60-year-old – who emerged from Inter's youth team in 1978 before leaving the club permanently in 1994 – told Stats Perform News.

"I think that I read one interview about [former Manchester United manager Alex] Ferguson that he said that he came from one passion football like when he was young, child play on the street and run over the dreams and everything and now probably the Super League can destroy the oldest small club like he mentioned that he won the Europa league with Aberdeen a small club.

"I don't think it's going to be okay for football, it looks like it has become a private club."

"I think that every club they have own problems now because of the covid situation," said Zenga, who was last head coach of Serie A side Cagliari in August last year. "We can just say our point of view that's just opinion it's not the truth no? We don't know what are the big problems inside some clubs, we don't know why they want to create a Super League probably to save the money or something like this.

"I think the only thing in this situation was thinking about the commercial and how to make more money and everything. Then honestly if you ask me do I like the Super League I say no. If you ask me about why one club takes a decision to approach these things I say I don't know because I'm not involved inside a club, I don't know the problems this is very difficult to understand."

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin branded the planned Super League as a "disgraceful, self-serving proposal" fuelled by greed, as well as confirming players from the 12 breakaway clubs involved will be banned from international football.

Madrid president and European Super League chairman Florentino Perez insisted the primary aim of the competition is to "save football".

When asked if there was any turning back following Sunday's initial announcement, Zenga – named the IFFHS World's Best Goalkeeper for three consecutive years in 1989, 1990 and 1991 – replied: "I think that now after UEFA send a letter to everybody I think it is very difficult because it is [not just] one big problem to solve.

"I don't think so I think the clubs go for themself. I don't think so after this, I think the Super League continues."

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