Lazio scored twice late on as they came from behind to beat Inter 3-1 and end Simone Inzaghi's unbeaten start in Serie A with his new club.

Ivan Perisic opened the scoring from the spot after just 12 minutes at the Stadio Olimpico, before Lazio's Ciro Immobile equalised with a penalty of his own after the break.

Controversy followed as Felipe Anderson tapped in on the rebound from Immobile's strike with nine minutes remaining, with Inter's Federico Dimarco seemingly down on the ground and injured in the build-up to the goal.

Sergej Milinkovic-Savic added a third with a late header as Inter's unbeaten start to their title defence, under the guidance of former Lazio boss Inzaghi, abruptly ended. The result leaves them four points behind leaders Napoli, who host Torino on Sunday.

Lazio's Luiz Felipe was red-carded after the full-time whistle for an altercation with former team-mate Joaquin Correa as tempers flared after the conclusion of the game.

Roberto Mancini has overseen arguably one of the all-time great transformations in international football, not only turning Italy into a team that has a clear and fresh identity, but also a side that is successful.

When they lost 1-0 to Portugal on September 10, 2018 in the Nations League, who'd have thought that by the next time they suffered defeat they'd have won the European Championship? The fact that's the case despite Euro 2020 being delayed for 12 months is all the more impressive.

While the Azzurri required a penalty shoot-out against England in Sunday's final at Wembley, it's fair to say Italy were worthy victors in the end, with their hosts' caution only taking them so far.

In fact, England's pragmatism was arguably akin to the philosophy historically associated with Italy, but under Mancini they've truly embraced a tactical fluidity that has seemingly altered the perception many have of them.

Press smart, work smart

Intense off-the-ball work and a high press have almost become mainstream in modern football. While they aren't necessarily prevalent aspects of every team, not even every great team, many of the world's finest coaches try to implement them to a certain degree.

At Euro 2020, it's been a core strength of Italy – but it's not just a case of chasing down opponents like headless chickens. They've proven themselves to be smart.

 

The average amount of passes Italy allow their opponents to have in their own defensive third before initiating a defensive action is 13 (PPDA). Seven teams at the tournament pressed with greater intensity, but none were as effective as Italy.

Their 56 high turnovers were matched by Denmark but Italy boasted a tournament-high 13 that led to a shot, while three resulted in a goal – that too was bettered by no other team.

It suggests that, while other sides such as Spain (8.1 PPDA) pressed higher, Italy were better at picking their moments and knowing when to up the intensity.

Italy still managed to remain well balanced, too. Their average starting position of 42.9 metres from their own goal was deeper than six other teams, an important factor considering Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci aren't the quickest.

Yet they still pressed to greater effect that any of the others.

Establishing control

If there was one area of the pitch that you might point out as most crucial in Italy's Euro 2020 success (if we ignore Gianluigi Donnarumma's shoot-out saves), it would be their midfield.

Nicolo Barella, Marco Verratti and Jorginho were largely excellent as a trio, though the latter pair have attracted most of the acclaim.

In Verratti, Mancini seems to have a player who truly embodies their style of play – an excellent creator, he also does more than his fair share off the ball as one of the most complete central midfielders in the game today. He puts the fun in functional.

Verratti played the most key passes (14) of anyone at the tournament and ranked fourth for successful passes (87.1) and fifth for tackle attempts (4.0) per 90 minutes (at least 90 mins played).

 

The Paris Saint-Germain star also provided drive from the centre, with his 23 ball carries per 90 minutes bettered by just five midfielders, though only Pedri moved the ball between five and 10 metres upfield more often than Verratti (47), highlighting his progressive mentality.

Yet he didn't do it all on his own – after all, Verratti missed the first two games through injury. No, Jorginho had a similarly important function as the chief deep-lying playmaker, playing 484 successful passes, trailing only Aymeric Laporte.

On top of that, Jorginho showed his innate ability to sniff out danger and get Italy back on the move, with his 48 recoveries the second-highest among outfield players.

Given the presence of these two, it's no wonder Italy strung together the third-most sequences of 10 of more passes (123), yet at no point did you feel they got in each other's way, which again is testament to Mancini's setup.

 

Turning a weakness into a strength

The fact Italy were successful despite not having a particularly convincing striker highlighted the effectiveness of other areas of the team.

Ciro Immobile was Mancini's pick to lead the line. He wasn't necessarily bad, as his goal involvement output of four (two goals, two assists) was only trumped by Patrik Schick and Cristiano Ronaldo.

However, the Lazio man was by no means deadly in front of goal, hitting the target with just three of 18 shots. Among players with at least 10 attempts, just four were accurate with a smaller percentage than Immobile (16.7 per cent).

 

But so fluid were Italy that it didn't really matter. Immobile was one of five Italy players to net two goals, something no team has achieved at the Euros since France did in 2000.

At Italy's Coverciano coach training facility, there is said to have been a growing focus on the development of what are essentially formation-less tactics, and the fact Italy carried a threat from so many different positions suggests such a future actually isn't that far away.

Further to this, Italy showed real flexibility in attack. Sure, they scored 10 times inside the box, a figure third only to Spain and England, but the difference is the Azzurri also netted three from outside the area – no team managed more.

While you might expect that to reflect significantly in their expected goals (xG), Italy still pretty much scored exactly the number of goals one would ordinarily expect from the quality of their chances (13 goals, 13.2 xG), albeit one of those was an own goal.

 

Whether Italy have enough talent coming through to sustain this level and establish the first international 'dynasty' since the Spain side that won Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 is another debate.

But there's little doubt Mancini has the know-how to make them the team to beat if the production line doesn't dry up.

Lorenzo Insigne dismissed speculation linking him with a move to Serie A rivals Lazio amid doubts over his Napoli future.

Insigne is entering the final year of his contract and the captain is yet to re-sign with boyhood club Napoli, where he emerged from the youth team in 2010.

The Italy star has been linked with LaLiga duo Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, while Liverpool and Milan have previously emerged as possible destinations.

Insigne was asked about his future, with reports claiming Italy team-mate Ciro Immobile is trying to lure the 30-year-old to Lazio.

"This rumour came out that Immobile is acting as sporting director to bring me to Lazio, but it's not true," Insigne said as Italy prepare for Saturday's Euro 2020 last-16 clash with Austria.

"He didn't tell me anything about it. We're friends, we're going on vacation together, but we haven't talked about that."

Insigne added: "I am only thinking of playing the European Championship, afterwards there is time to talk to the club.

"As for my career, I have no regrets. What I always dreamed of was playing for Napoli and wearing the armband. My two dreams have come true and therefore I am not happy, but overjoyed."

Roberto Mancini said that Domenico Berardi and Manuel Locatelli did "what I'm always asking them to do" in combining for Italy's first goal in a 3-0 win over Switzerland.

The result, which came courtesy of a Locatelli brace and a third goal added by Ciro Immobile, confirmed Italy's place in the knockout stage of Euro 2020 after just two games played.

Mancini's men dominated the contest at Stadio Olimpico and were rewarded with a second consecutive 3-0 victory, having beaten Turkey by the same scoreline in their opening Group A match.

Mancini hailed his side's performance, telling reporters: "Switzerland are a strong side. We knew it would be a tough game and it was.

"We created several chances and we deserved the victory. We were struggling in the opening minutes, but then we pressed them high and forced them to make mistakes.

"The lads did really well. It wasn't easy; it was their second game in five days and it's so hot."

He picked out his side's opening goal for special praise, having seen Locatelli start the move in midfield before latching onto Berardi's cross to score from close range.

"This is exactly what the lads have to do, what I'm always asking them to do," said Mancini.

"Always believe that it can be the right chance, as Locatelli did by following the action after his pass to Berardi in midfield."

Mancini's opposite number Vladimir Petkovic faces an uphill struggle to progress from Group A, having taken one point from their games against Wales and Italy.

Switzerland face Turkey in Baku in their final group game, and Petkovic said they must remain committed to their task.

"Many things didn't work for us tonight, and plenty worked for Italy. The truth lies in the middle," he said. 

"Congratulations to Italy – they play great football, and have for some time.

"Everyone deserves to be disappointed tonight, but tomorrow from the first training session we move on. I spoke to the team and told them there's a match left, and three points could get us to the next round."

Italy became the first team to reach the Euro 2020 knockout stage after Manuel Locatelli scored twice in a 3-0 victory over Switzerland in Group A.

Locatelli scored in-form Italy's 29th goal without reply to put them ahead at Stadio Olimpico, where Switzerland failed to land a shot on target in the opening 45 minutes.

The Sassuolo midfielder struck again early in the second half and Ciro Immobile added a third to ensure the scoreline reflected their dominance on a night when Roberto Mancini's men showed their 3-0 opening-game win over Turkey was no flash in the pan.

Switzerland must beat Turkey in their final group game to retain hope of finishing in the top two in Group A, while Italy can rest players when they face Wales.

Giorgio Chiellini had the ball in the net after 18 minutes but his close-range strike was ruled out for handball in the build-up following a VAR review, before the veteran defender left the field with a hamstring injury.

Italy deservedly took the lead after 25 minutes when Jorginho set Domenico Berardi free down the right and he crossed for Locatelli to score with a low finish from six yards.

The second half was just six minutes old when Locatelli struck again, collecting Nicola Barella's pass on the edge of the Switzerland penalty area before unleashing a left-footed drive into the net.

Gianluigi Donnarumma made a strong low save to prevent Steven Zuber from scoring with an angled close-range drive in what proved to be the nearest Switzerland would come to finding the net.

With one minute left on the clock, Immobile scored from just outside the box with a powerful right-footed shot, becoming the first player to score in Italy's opening two games at a major tournament since Christian Vieri at the 2002 World Cup.

What does it mean? Italy impenetrable, even without Chiellini

Italy have gone 965 minutes without conceding a goal, and they are building a formidable finals campaign on the firmest of foundations at Euro 2020.

Francesco Acerbi represented a seamless replacement for Chiellini, who can now be given a breather ahead of the knockout stage as he recovers from injury.

Locatelli at the double

Italy proved they are a team with goals throughout as Locatelli became their third player to score a brace at the Euros after Mario Balotelli against Germany in 2012 and Pierluigi Casiraghi against Russia in 1996.

Locatelli is the first player to score from outside the box for Italy at the Euros since Andrea Pirlo did so against Croatia in 2012.

Seferovic's struggle continues

Haris Seferovic has now made six appearances in European Championships but has yet to score, and failed to add to his 13 tournament shots before he was replaced by Mario Gavranovic at the start of the second half.

What's next?

Italy are back in the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday as they face Wales, while Switzerland travel to Baku to take on Turkey in their final Group A match.

Roberto Mancini basked in the emotion of a "beautiful evening" as Italy began Euro 2020 with a commanding 3-0 win over Turkey, but he is not getting carried away after one match.

Against a sorry Turkey side, Italy were a cut above on Friday in Rome's Stadio Olimpico, where the Azzurri are unbeaten in nine matches at major tournaments.

A frustratingly unambitious Turkey were finally breached early in the second half when Domenico Berardi smashed a cross in off Merih Demiral and, as their opponents' cumulative expected goals (xG) value of 0.6 suggests, Italy need not have scored again.

But they did for good measure, Ciro Immobile pouncing on a rebound to net for the third successive game for his country, before then teeing up the excellent Lorenzo Insigne for a lovely finish.

It was the first time in European Championship history that Italy have scored three times in a single match, with the win and overall manner of it seeing Mancini's men make a real statement about their chances over the next month.

It had been difficult to truly gauge their seemingly impressive qualifying campaign because most of their goals came against massively inferior opposition. This victory was rather more conclusive, though Mancini was not getting carried away at full-time.

Asked whether this was just the first step towards the final at Wembley on July 11, Mancini told Rai Sport: "There are still six more steps. It was a beautiful evening, I hope there are many others like this.

"I was hoping for a start like this, we are pleased to have played well and entertained the fans. I hope the Italians had a good evening. We played well, we never gave up. In short it was an excellent match.

"We are aware that we are a good team. We beat Turkey, who are definitely not pushovers. We know we can still improve, even with young players who don't yet have European Championship experience."

The first half was frustrating for Italy, their 14 shots – compared to Turkey's zero – yielding little, while their opponents sat back and hoped to absorb pressure.

Italy would have expected such an approach from Turkey to a degree, given they relied on counter-attacks 26 per cent more than the average in qualifying, according to Stats Perform's Playing Styles model.

But ultimately Italy got the job done and Mancini applauded his men for not becoming disheartened, instead persisting as they looked to pull Turkey to and fro with quick distribution.

"We had a good match, even in the first half when we couldn't find the goal, we were very good," Mancini continued. "The match was not easy, it was the debut and Turkey is an excellent team.

"We were decisive when we moved the ball quickly and came to the opposite side, freeing the man.

"It was important to start well, it was a satisfaction for all of us, for the present public and for all Italians."

Ciro Immobile thanked his mother for giving him his sense of goal after helping Italy to launch their Euro 2020 campaign with a resounding 3-0 win over Turkey in Rome.

A dogged, if unambitious, approach from Senol Gunes' side ensured it was 0-0 at the interval at the Stadio Olimpico, but the breakthrough came eight minutes into the second half when Merih Demiral turned Domenico Berardi's powerful cross into his own net.

Lazio striker Immobile was then on hand to convert the rebound from Leonardo Spinazzola's shot – his third consecutive scoring appearance for the Azzurri but a first goal in the finals of a major tournament.

"I want to thank my mother for giving me the sense for being in the right place in the right moment," the 31-year-old said, as quoted by UEFA.com.

Roberto Mancini's side had 63.4 per cent possession and the eventual shot count came in at 24-3, with Immobile's six attempts meaning he had double the amount the entire Turkey team managed over the course of the 90 minutes.

Immobile felt being under pressure for such long periods took a toll on Italy's opponents.

"We showed patience in the first half. Turkey are a strong side and caused problems for many top teams," he said.

"We tried to tire them out, moving the ball left and right and trying to spread them. Unfortunately, we regularly struggled to break their wall.

"Turkey were more tired after the break. After the goal they had to open up some space, so that’s when our quality emerged."

Lorenzo Insigne completed the scoring with a crisp finish – teed up by Immobile – and produced many of those moments of quality.

The Napoli forward had five shots, with two on target and two blocked, and created three chances for team-mates. Only fellow wide attacker Domenico Berardi (five) made more key passes.

"We made a slow start but we managed to recover and score three goals in the second half," Insigne said.

"Mancini told us to remain calm and focused on the game – that’s what we did and, finally, we achieved our goal.

"Our strength is the group; the coach has created a great group in which there are no starters and bench players and each one of us is always ready to sacrifice for our team-mates.

"Winning is the most important thing – if I score, even better. It was a great night."

Italy are off to a flyer at Euro 2020 and added weight to the theory they are serious trophy contenders with Friday's 3-0 win over Turkey.

Merih Demiral's own goal was followed by strikes from Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne, and the clean sheet means Italy have now not conceded for 875 minutes.

Using Opta data, we take a look at what was the biggest win achieved in any opening match in the history of the European Championship.

Turkey 0-3 Italy: Three and easy for Azzurri

Italy have become used to starting tournaments well – although first they have to qualify, and it stung when they missed out on the 2018 World Cup. They beat England in their 2014 World Cup opener, defeated Belgium at Euro 2016, and showed their early-doors mettle again here.

This 3-0 win gave them the biggest margin of victory in an opening match at a European Championship, but perhaps the hefty victory should not have come as a surprise given Turkey are notoriously slow starters. They have lost their opening match at all seven of their appearances at major tournaments (World Cup and European Championship) – the only nation to play at more than three such tournaments and never avoid defeat first up.

What does it tell us about this reborn Italy? Well, their unbeaten run now stands at 28 games (W23 D5), and the Azzurri have only once enjoyed a longer run, going 30 without defeat between November 1935 and July 1939. Coach Roberto Mancini has worked some kind of wizardry since taking the helm in 2018, and they have now not conceded in their past 875 minutes of football, keeping a clean sheet in nine successive games, their best streak since 10 in a row between November 1989 and June 1990 – the month they headed into Italia 90.

Demiral has an unwanted place in history, scoring the first own-goal opener to a European Championship tournament, and it should have come as no shock to see Immobile get among the goals, given that since joining Lazio in 2016, the striker has scored 92 goals in 118 appearances at the Stadio Olimpico for club and country.

Ultimately, it was a night to savour for Giorgio Chiellini, as the captain became the oldest outfield player to start a match for Italy at a major tournament. At 36 years and 301 days, he went ahead of Fabio Cannavaro's previous record of 36 years and 284 days, set against Slovakia at the 2010 World Cup.

Chiellini was Cannavaro's centre-back partner on that day 11 years ago, a low point for Italy when a 3-2 defeat saw them knocked out of the tournament.

With Italy away to a strong start here, Chiellini will want to substantially extend his newly inherited record over the weeks ahead.

Italy made a commanding return to major tournament football as they opened Euro 2020 with a comfortable 3-0 win over Turkey at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome on Friday.

The Azzurri failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup but have since rebuilt under Roberto Mancini, who appears to have transformed them into a credible force that dealt with one of the competition's supposed dark horses with relative ease.

Not that it was all plain sailing, however. Andrea Bocelli's pre-match rendition of 'Nessun Dorma' – or 'let no one sleep' in English – was seemingly not heeded amid a dour first half, though one flashpoint just before the interval saw Italy denied a penalty.

Mancini's side eventually opened the scoring soon after half-time as Juventus defender Merih Demiral scored an own goal and, given the lack of threat posed by Turkey, subsequent strikes from Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne were probably not even necessary.

Turkey relied on counter-attacks 26 per cent more than the average in qualifying, according to Stats Perform's Playing Styles model, and their deep set-up contributed to a cagey opening.

But Italy started to probe with greater intent and saw Insigne shoot just after a one-two with Immobile in the 17th minute, before Giorgio Chiellini – now the oldest outfielder to ever start a major tournament game for the Azzurri – drew a stunning save from Ugurcan Cakir with a powerful header.

Turkey were then arguably fortunate not to concede a penalty just before half-time, VAR deeming there to be no clear error when Zeki Celik handled Leonardo Spinazzola's cross.

Although Cengiz Under was introduced at the break, Turkey's gameplan showed no change and Italy deservedly made the breakthrough in the 53rd minute as Domenico Berardi left Umut Meras on his backside and smashed the ball across goal, with Demiral diverting it into his own net.

Cakir could not hold on to Spinazzola's shot and Immobile was on hand to coolly tap in the rebound to make in 2-0 just past the hour.

And Insigne wrapped things up 11 minutes from time, curling home after being teed up by Immobile as the Azzurri netted three times in a single game for the first time in European Championship finals history.

Italy extended their impressive unbeaten run to 27 matches as they completed their Euro 2020 preparations with a 4-0 victory over the Czech Republic on Friday.

Ciro Immobile and Nicolo Barella grabbed first-half goals in the friendly fixture at the Renato Dall'Ara Stadium in Bologna, though both benefited from seeing their attempts take crucial deflections to beat Jiri Pavlenka.

Lorenzo Insigne required no help to add a third in the 66th minute and then set up Domenico Berardi for the final goal as the Czechs were easily bounced, producing a worrying performance ahead of their involvement in the European Championship.

In contrast, the Azzurri head into the delayed tournament having not been beaten since a 1-0 reverse against Portugal in a Nations League fixture back in September 2018.

Not long after an injury scare for Leonardo Bonucci that saw the Juventus centre-back require treatment on his right knee, Immobile opened the scoring when his close-range shot clipped Ondrej Celustka to wrong-foot goalkeeper Pavlenka.

If that goal was somewhat unfortunate for the Czech Republic, the second they conceded was just plain bizarre.

Barella was allowed to carry the ball when in possession before taking aim from just outside the penalty area, his effort hitting not one but two defenders before ending up in the net.

Jan Boril's bid to make a block on the Inter midfielder only sent the ball onto compatriot Jakub Brabec, who – with his back turned – ended up sending the ball looping up and over the luckless Pavlenka.

Immobile's clever throughball allowed Insigne to curl a right-footed attempt into the net, while the scorer of Italy's third turned provider to set up Berardi for a cheeky finish, with an initial dummy fooling Pavlenka to allow the Sassuolo player to flick in with his left foot.

Roberto Mancini handed Berardi's club colleague Giacomo Raspadori a debut off the bench, but the forward – a surprise selection in the final 26-man squad announced on Monday – could not mark the memorable occasion by adding his name to the list of scorers.

Joaquin Correa scored twice as Lazio enhanced their chances of qualifying for the Champions League and left Milan out of the top four with a 3-0 win at fortress Stadio Olimpico.

Correa scored after only 77 seconds and struck again in the second half to seal a deserved victory for Lazio in head coach Simone Inzaghi's first game back on the touchline since recovering from coronavirus.

The prolific Ciro Immobile rubbed salt into the wounds with a late third as Milan were toothless in defeat to Stefano Pioli's former club and slipped to fifth in the Serie A table, level on points with Napoli and Juventus.

Lazio are five points adrift of the Rossoneri, after securing a 10th successive home victory in the top flight, and they have a game in hand in what is shaping up to be a tense battle for Champions League qualification. 

Joaquin Correa scored twice as Lazio enhanced their chances of qualifying for the Champions League and pushed Milan out of the top four with a 3-0 win at fortress Stadio Olimpico.

Correa scored after only 77 seconds and struck again in the second half to seal a deserved victory for Lazio in head coach Simone Inzaghi's first game back on the touchline since recovering from coronavirus.

The prolific Ciro Immobile rubbed salt into the wounds with a late third as Milan were toothless in defeat to Stefano Pioli's former club and slipped to fifth in the Serie A table, level on points with Napoli and Juventus.

Lazio are five points adrift of the Rossoneri, after securing a 10th successive home victory in the top flight, and they have a game in hand in what is shaping up to be a tense battle for Champions League qualification. 

Roberto Mancini has set his sights on World Cup glory with Italy, though his first aim may well be to push for enlarged squads at Euro 2020.

Italy made it three wins from three to start their World Cup 2022 qualification campaign by seeing off Lithuania by the now familiar scoreline of 2-0. 

Goals from Stefano Sensi and Ciro Immobile bookended the second half on Wednesday, as Italy took a three-point lead in Group C.

The Azzurri have won their last five matches 2-0, and are unbeaten in 25 games under Mancini, which brings him level with Marcelo Lippi's best haul – only Vittorio Pozzo (30) has managed a better such streak.

Lippi guided Italy to a 2006 World Cup success, and Mancini did not shy away from wanting to emulate one of his predecessors.

"I'm happy we are top of the group, it's pleasing, but records are standalone issues compared to real results," he told reporters.

"I hope to match Lippi at the World Cup, maybe in December 2022."

With three qualifying wins under their belt, Italy's focus will now switch to the upcoming Euros, rearranged from last year.

Mancini picked a 38-man squad for this latest round of internationals, and suggested it would be prudent for UEFA to accommodate larger squads than the usual 23 at this year's tournament. 

"I think it could be a good idea to be able to name bigger squads for Euro 2020," Mancini said.

"I think it could be the right thing to do. The problem would above all be if a couple of players had problems in the tournament, as it's difficult to call them back after that, when players are on vacation."

Italy recorded 29 shots against Lithuania, with 11 of them on target – the excellent Tomas Svedkauskas pulling off nine saves.

Immobile, who scored from the spot with the last kick of the game, was particularly wasteful, sending a close-range header wide after seeing two efforts saved by Svedkauskas.

The 31-year-old Lazio forward has scored eight goals in World Cup qualifiers, the joint-third most in Italy's history – along with Daniele De Rossi – and Mancini believes fatigue played a big part in Immobile's profligate display.

"Ciro gave everything he could today," Mancini added. "The players aren't in the best shape right now, they are lacking sharpness, but the goals will come more consistently for him."

Italy continued their 100 per cent start to World Cup qualifying as Stefano Sensi and Ciro Immobile sealed a 2-0 win over Lithuania.

With main rivals Switzerland not in action on Wednesday, Roberto Mancini's side capitalised to take a three-point lead at the top of Group C.

Sensi's 47th-minute effort put them ahead, with Immobile, who had squandered several gilt-edged chances, scoring a penalty with the final kick of the game.

Immobile's previous profligacy would have proved costly if not for Gianluigi Donnarumma, Italy's goalkeeper producing a fantastic save from Tautvydas Eliosius to set the stage for the Lazio forward to make amends from the spot late on.

Roberto Mancini and Leonardo Bonucci acknowledged there is room for improvement from Italy, despite kicking off their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign with a routine 2-0 win over Northern Ireland.

Domenico Berardi scored for the third international running and Ciro Immobile doubled the Azzurri's lead before half-time in Thursday's Group C clash at Stadio Ennio Tardini.

After managing five attempts on target in a dominant first half, however, Italy dropped off in the second period and failed to test Bailey Peacock-Farrell on a single occasion.

Northern Ireland went close to pulling one back through strikes from Gavin Whyte, Michael Smith and Steven Davis, while Paddy McNair blazed over from a good position late on.

The victory was Italy's fourth in a row without conceding and extended their unbeaten run to 23 matches.

But Mancini was not pleased with what he saw in the second half of the game in Parma, which he put down to the lengthy break between matches for his side.

"After four months, the first half was excellent and we should've scored more goals," he told Rai Sport.

"We'll have to review the second half with the team, because we must do better than that. The first half was perfect and we should've had more goals.

"Perhaps we started to take a few too many touches after the break and the ball moved slowly, but that can happen after four months of not seeing each other.

"We could've won by a bigger margin in the first half, but we knew Northern Ireland were a physical side who could cause us problems. We made too many mistakes.

"The ball can go long at times, especially when we're pressed like that and the opposition are defending in numbers."

Italy's possession count dropped from 72.6 per cent in the first half to 59.6 in the second and they regularly gifted the ball to their opponents.

Bonucci, who became the eighth player to win 100 caps for Italy with his appearance on Thursday, accepted lessons can be learned from the contest.

"It's important that we kept a clean sheet, even if we made a lot of mistakes in the second half and need to improve, especially when we're in possession," he said.

"But what I've always liked since Mancini took over is the attitude. We face everyone without fear, we keep our nerve and go out there to win every game.

"It means there's a lot of hard work behind it, from the players and the staff, because the ideas are clear and we drill them in very quickly.

"The young players here have a lot of talent, along with the spirit of sacrifice and hard work, so these are the results."

With his 14th-minute strike in Parma, Immobile has now been directly involved in seven goals in his last seven starts for Italy - four goals and three assists.

It was a rare goal from open play, however, and the Lazio striker celebrated wildly at the empty ground.

"I felt a weight off my shoulders because I hadn't scored from open play for a year and a half in the Italy shirt," he told Rai Sport.

"I slipped on the first chance, the goalkeeper was there on the second, so I was feeling frustrated and let it all out after the third chance went in.

"Having competition for places only makes you more determined to find the net and help the team. [Andrea] Belotti scored last time, I got the goal this time, so there needs to be more faith in this Italy side."

Italy join second seeds Switzerland on three points at the top of Group C and travel to Sofia on Sunday to face Bulgaria in their next qualifier.

Mancini, who is one of only three coaches to stay unbeaten in his first 15 home matches in charge of Italy after Enzo Bearzot and Marcello Lippi, hinted he will heavily rotate his side for that match.

"We need to change something. We need some fresh players," he said at his post-match news conference. "Nothing should change on the pitch, even if we were to alter five players."

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