Manchester United's search for a new permanent manager continues, with Mauricio Pochettino the favourite.

Ralf Rangnick has been appointed on an interim basis until the end of the season, though Michael Carrick is set to preside over a third game as caretaker manager on Thursday.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was sacked last month after a poor run of results at the end of a trophy-less tenure.

 

TOP STORY – MANCINI EMERGES AS SHOCK MAN UTD CONTENDER

Former Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini has emerged as a contender for the vacant Man Utd managerial role, claims The Telegraph.

The current Italy head coach, who led the Azzurri to the Euro 2020 title, is under "careful consideration" by United chiefs, according to the report.

Mancini is contracted with Italy until 2026 on a lucrative deal but may potentially be available to take over from Rangnick pending Italy's World Cup qualification play-offs in March.

 

ROUND-UP

Milan want to sign Arsenal forward Alexandre Lacazette as soon as possible and will make a move for him in January rather than wait for him to become a free agent at the season's end, according to Sport Italia journalist Rudy Galetti.

Man Utd have been offered the opportunity to sign Brazil attacking midfielder Philippe Coutinho by Barcelona, reports Sport.

- Sport also claims Barcelona have a "total agreement" to sign Man City's Spanish forward Ferran Torres, although they want the English champions to lower their asking price of £60million.

Ajax are looking to do a deal with Tottenham to sign Dutch forward Steven Bergwijn on loan, according to De Telegraaf.

- Calciomercato claims Juventus have pulled out of the race to sign Monaco's Aurelien Tchouameni, with Chelsea leading the contenders.

Roberto Mancini is "completely confident" Italy can rediscover their cutting edge and seal a 2022 World Cup spot after a goalless draw with Northern Ireland denied them automatic qualification.

The European champions went into their final Group C match at Windsor Park on Monday top on goal difference ahead of Switzerland.

But Northern Ireland did the Swiss a huge favour, frustrating an Azzurri side that could not find a way past goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell.

Switzerland had no such trouble as they thrashed Bulgaria 4-0 to move ahead of Italy and secure their place in the tournament in Qatar next year.

Italy only hit the target with half of their 12 shots and ought to have been consigned to defeat when Conor Washington spurned a great chance in the closing stages, Leonardo Bonucci clearing off the line to preserve a sixth clean sheet of the campaign. No other European team have conceded fewer than their two goals.

The Azzurri must get through a play-off semi-final and final to avoid missing out on a second consecutive World Cup, but Mancini believes they will get the job done in March.

He said: "Despite controlling matches, we're struggling to score goals at the moment. We needed to score early on tonight. It's a shame because we should have finished things off sooner in this group.

"We need to rediscover what has set us apart until now and remain completely calm until March.

"We should have won against Bulgaria and had two penalties against Switzerland. These are games that could have finished in our favour. I'm completely confident about the play-offs."

Since beating England on penalties in the Euro 2020 final at Wembley, Mancini's side have won just two of their seven fixtures, with only one of those victories coming in qualifying.

Roberto Mancini insisted Italy must not forget what they have achieved recently as his side prepare for a crunch clash with Northern Ireland.

The Euro 2020 winners sit above Switzerland in World Cup qualifying Group C on goal difference alone, with both teams currently on 15 points after a 1-1 draw between the pair on Friday.

With only the team that finishes top progressing, slipping to second place would see Italy condemned to the play-offs as the Azzurri flirt with missing the World Cup for the second time in a row.

However, as Italy prepare for their final game with Northern Ireland – who are in third with eight points – Mancini implored his team to remember what they have achieved so far, having previously embarked on a world-record 37 matches without defeat.

"We mustn’t think negative thoughts," Mancini said at Sunday's pre-match news conference. "We know it’s an important match, we’ll go there aiming to win and know that Northern Ireland are difficult to beat here.

"If we do miss out, then we’ve got the opportunity of a make-up exam in March, but we want to go through tomorrow and that is what we must focus on.

"Nobody believed in us when we started this journey three years ago and we know there have been difficult moments along the way. It’s a delicate match tomorrow, but the lads mustn’t forget everything they have achieved already.

"They mustn’t feel so much anxiety, they have to play with freedom and concentrate on what needs to be done."

Italy, however, are by no means a certainty to cruise past Northern Ireland, given the Azzurri have never won in Belfast.

Indeed, a 2-1 loss in 1958 saw Italy miss out on the World Cup that year and Mancini appreciates the difficult task that awaits his team at Windsor Park.

"I don’t go back that far, but I do know the history," Mancini responded when asked about Italy's previous record in Belfast.

"It’s not an issue of scoring many goals, it’s about playing the game. Northern Ireland haven’t conceded a goal yet at Windsor Park in this group and there must be a reason for that.

"We have to win and if we score lots of goals that’s even better. We certainly won’t go for high balls into the box, as Northern Ireland are rather tall and that’s their bread and butter.

"We must try to play the ball quickly to feet, what we’ve been doing for the last three years, really.

"All the teams have injuries at the moment, but we remain a strong squad and will aim to get a positive result."

Roberto Mancini is "sure" European champions Italy will qualify for the 2022 World Cup following their 1-1 draw against Switzerland.

Top spot in Group C will be decided in the final round of games after Jorginho missed a late penalty for Euro 2020 winners Italy in Rome on Friday.

Italy fell behind to a powerful Silvan Widmer strike after 11 minutes but hit back through fellow right-back Giovanni Di Lorenzo's header before half-time. 

The Azzurri – who failed to qualify for the World Cup in Russia three years ago – had a glorious chance to seize control on the road to Qatar 2022, however, Jorginho skied his 90th-minute spot-kick over the crossbar.

Automatic qualification is in the balance, though Italy have a slightly better goal difference, so they only need to match Switzerland's final-game result to finish top of the pool and condemn Murat Yakin's men to the play-offs in March and head coach Mancini remains confident.

"They are sorry, it's normal," Mancini told reporters, with Italy to visit Northern Ireland on Monday as Switzerland host Bulgaria.

"And then a penalty like that in the 90th minute, it's clear that they are sorry but nothing can be done now. We will get to the World Cup, I'm sure."

Italy boss Mancini added: "It's complicated but we are two goals ahead. We have to go there, try to play our game and win and hope that Bulgaria will have a great game.

"We have to play our game and win, this is our task. Right now, we must recover our energy, it was a very tough game. We need to be confident, even when things don't seem to go well, they can change.

"The team always try to do their best, in some moments of the season the players struggle more and the many injuries are a demonstration of this.

"Two goals are two goals; they seem like nothing but they are two goals… and then who says that Bulgaria cannot get a positive result? We are slightly ahead, now we are thinking about winning in Northern Ireland."

Italy captain Leonardo Bonucci has backed Jorginho to remain on penalty duties despite the midfielder's potentially costly miss in Friday's 1-1 draw with Switzerland.

Jorginho fired over the bar from 12 yards in the 90th minute after Ulisses Garcia was adjudged to have nudged over fellow substitute Domenico Berardi inside the box.

The Chelsea man has now missed three penalties in a row for Italy – one against England in the Euro 2020 final shoot-out and two against Switzerland in World Cup 2022 qualifying.

That follows a run of six successful spot-kicks on the spin, and skipper Bonucci is happy for Jorginho to take Italy's next penalty.

"He is our penalty taker and will continue to be," Bonucci told Rai Sport. "Four months ago he scored the decisive penalty against Spain that took us to the Euros final.

"We all make mistakes. Now we must look ahead to our next game if we are to reach the World Cup."

 

Jorginho's miss came after Giovanni Di Lorenzo had cancelled out fellow right-back Silvan Widmer's drive in a gripping first half at Stadio Olimpico.

Italy would have moved three points clear of Switzerland at the top of Group C had Jorginho converted, but instead they remain level on points with their opponents.

Azzurri goalscorer Di Lorenzo joined Bonucci in defending Jorginho's recent record from the spot.

"He may have missed his last three, but he is a great champion and he's our penalty taker," Di Lorenzo told Rai Sport. "We will all support him to get through this moment."

Italy have a slightly superior goal difference to Switzerland, meaning they only have to match Murat Yakin's side's scoreline in the final round of games if they are to qualify automatically for Qatar 2022 and avoid the play-offs.

European champions Italy travel to Northern Ireland on Monday, while Switzerland are at home to Bulgaria in their concluding qualifier.

Despite his side having won just two of their six matches since lifting the European Championship trophy, Roberto Mancini is confident his side can complete the job in Belfast.

"Against Northern Ireland we start with an advantage, and it's not a small one," Mancini said. "If we play well and score the goals we didn't score today...

"It was a difficult game and we were impacted by the goal we conceded. It's a shame that we didn't score in the second half."

Northern Ireland have not conceded in any of their three home qualifiers this campaign, but Gianluigi Donnarumma insisted his side will head to Windsor Park with the mindset of scoring goals.

"It's normal to be angry, but we don't worry too much because in a few days there is another important match," he said. "We need to recharge our energy immediately and we will be ready to have a great match and win.

"We will head into the next game with the right mentality that is needed to win the match and go to the World Cup. Right now we have to think only about winning and about ourselves.

"We will see what happens in the other match in the group afterwards. We have to think about winning and scoring a few goals. Then we will see what happens."

Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti has no interest in leading Italy as he enjoys "day-to-day work" at club level.

Italy are currently in good hands with Roberto Mancini, who guided the Azzurri to Euro 2020 glory.

Mancini is contracted to Italy until 2026, having overseen the country setting a new world record of 37 matches unbeaten.

A 26-time Italy international, former Parma, Juventus, Milan and Napoli boss Ancelotti was asked about coaching at international level.

"I don't know, I don't know," Ancelotti told ESPN Colombia as Italy gear up for their decisive Group C contest with Switzerland on Friday.

"I like the day-to-day work of training with teams. I'd have to think about a national team role, but I don't think so."

Ancelotti is back in charge of Madrid for a second time after leading Los Blancos to Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, Club World Cup and Copa del Rey glory during his first spell between 2013 and 2015.

Madrid are second in LaLiga this season, a point behind Real Sociedad during the international break, though they have played a game less.

Ancelotti's Madrid also top Champions League Group D, two points ahead of Inter through four matchdays.

Italy boss Roberto Mancini has called up Atalanta's Matteo Pessina and Lazio midfielder Danilo Cataldi to his latest squad after losing Roma duo Lorenzo Pellegrini and Nicolo Zaniolo to injury.

The European champions face Switzerland and Northern Ireland in their final two qualifiers for the Qatar 2022 World Cup and currently sit top of Group C on goal difference, level on 14 points with the Swiss ahead of their crucial encounter in Rome on Friday.

Mancini, who is already without Marco Verratti due to a hip injury, confirmed earlier on Monday at a media conference that Pellegrini (knee) and Zaniolo (calf) will return to their club.

"Zaniolo was a bit unlucky because he suffered two serious injuries. He is young and he has the qualities to get over it," he said.

"It could have been an important game for him, but he has a problem and we can't take any risk. I don't think he needs my advice, he has the quality and he can improve in everything.

"We will surely replace them [Pellegrini and Zaniolo] because we also need to assess [Nicolo] Barella. We didn't call Pessina because he is not ready."

Despite this, Mancini ultimately did decide to turn to Pessina, as well as Cataldi, who receives his first senior call-up since 2017 after a solid start to the season at Lazio.

The former Manchester City manager did have better news about his defence, with Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci appearing to be fit to play despite missing Juventus' 1-0 win against Fiorentina at the weekend.

"They feel well, we have a training session today. We'll see how everyone feels." 

Can Cataldi step up for the Azzurri?

While Mancini is suffering from something of a midfield crisis, having players with the quality of Pessina and Cataldi to call on is not a bad problem to have.

It may be the first call-up for Cataldi in over four years, but he has achieved it off the back of some eye-catching performances at club level for Maurizio Sarri's men.

When measured against Pellegrini, whose role he will fill, Cataldi leads the way in pass success percentage (91.2), albeit the 27-year-old has only started four of his 10 league appearances, while the Roma captain has started 11.

Cataldi also has a superior pass completion rate in the opposition half, with 84.7 per cent compared to Pellegrini's 79.7, so his numbers do not appear to be indicative of him only playing easy passes.

Whether Cataldi gets an opportunity to win only his second cap remains to be seen, but he has clearly caught the eye of Mancini at least.

Nicolo Barella and Domenico Berardi struck in the second half as Italy defeated Belgium 2-1 to claim third place at the 2021 Nations League Finals on Sunday.

Roberto Martinez's side, who let slip a two-goal lead to lose to France on Thursday, were denied twice by the woodwork either side of Barella's volley, which gave the reigning European champions the lead just a minute after the interval.

Berardi then scored from the penalty spot to add a second for Roberto Mancini's team, who had their record 37-game unbeaten run ended by Spain in Wednesday's semi-final, before Charles de Ketelaere netted a late consolation.

Italy banished any demons after their first competitive loss on home soil since 1999 while Belgium - having faltered in a Euro 2020 quarter-final against the same opponents - may now have to wait until the 2022 World Cup to inflict revenge.

Federico Chiesa blasted the first chance of the contest narrowly over from a tight angle before a deflected effort from Berardi was parried away by Thibaut Courtois.

Toby Alderweireld's near-post header then forced Gianluigi Donnarumma's first save, but the Italy goalkeeper could only stand and watch as Alexis Saelemaekers curled onto the crossbar moments later.

Barella responded by sending a speculative long-range effort over before Chiesa was excellently denied by Courtois' legs on the stroke of half-time.

Courtois, however, was no match for Barella's right-footed volley straight after the break, the midfielder finding the bottom corner to open the scoring.

Michy Batshuayi almost immediately drew Belgium level, his right-footed drive cannoning into the bar, before Timothy Castagne needlessly fouled Chiesa to concede a penalty, one Berardi converted despite Courtois getting a hand to the effort.

Yannick Carrasco struck the right-hand post and while De Ketelaere did roll through Donnarumma's legs to score, Belgium could were unable to find a late leveller.

Jorginho is dreaming of winning the Ballon d'Or as Azzurri head coach Roberto Mancini insisted no one is more "deserving" than the Chelsea and Italy star.

Having won Euro 2020 with Italy after helping Chelsea to Champions League glory last season, Jorginho is among the nominees for this year's Ballon d'Or, alongside the likes of Paris Saint-Germain superstar and Copa America winner Lionel Messi and Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski.

Jorginho already received the UEFA Men's Player of the Year prize following his exploits for club and country.

"Ballon d'Or? That's the dream of every child in the world," Jorginho told reporters ahead of Sunday's Nations League third-place play-off against Belgium.

"I learnt that dreaming little things and big things is exactly the same. So, I prefer to dream big things."

"It would be incredible," the 29-year-old midfielder continued. "I can't find words to explain it. I could never imagine it when I start my career. But now I'm so close and that's really incredible, I feel so good."

Jorginho added: "Things are changing fast. I worked very hard with Chelsea and Italy, then this perfect season happened.

"Everyone helped me. I do not feel pressure, to be honest. I'm calm because everyone believes in me. I'm happy."

Italy boss Mancini also endorsed Jorginho for the prized individual honour, telling a news conference: "They were nominated because they are good players and not because of me.

"If I have to choose one, I'd give it to Jorginho because he won Champions League, Euro Cup and FA Cup. He deserves it, I do not see anyone deserving it more than him."

Italy head coach Roberto Mancini criticised fans in Milan for choosing to jeer goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma in 2-1 Nations League semi-final loss to Spain, saying the national team comes above all else.

Donnarumma left Serie A outfit Milan for Ligue 1 giants Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer in the off-season, prompting some fans to jeer him every time he touched the ball upon his return to San Siro for the first time since the move.

The 21-year-old star was hardly impacted by the frequent jeers on Wednesday and whistled although he fumbled a routine take from Marcos Alonso's shot on to the post in the first half.

"For sure [Donnarumma] wasn't happy about the whistles during the first half but what could we do?," Mancini said during his post-game news conference.

"We are all adults and we have to accept also this situation and in the end I think Gigio despite that played a good game. It certainly won't have pleased him, just as it did not please us. Gigio did well."

Mancini added: "Donnarumma played for Italy and it was not a club game. This situation could have been put aside for one night and [they could have] whistled [at him] in a possible PSG vs Milan [match]. Italy are Italy and come above all else."

The defeat ended the European champions' record 37-game unbeaten run, as well as their bid to add the Nations League title to their Euro 2020 crown.

Italy's undefeated streak dated back to September 2018, when they went down 1-0 to Portugal in a Nations League group game in Lisbon.

"It would have been better not to suffer this defeat but we knew that sooner or later eventually we would have to lose a game," Mancini said. "It is better for it to come tonight than in the final of the Euros or the World Cup.

"I believe though that this game makes us even stronger despite the defeat and allows us to understand that we are truly a great team."

Italy's hopes of victory were not helped by captain Leonardo Bonucci's second yellow card in the first half, with Ferran Torres' two goals coming either side of his 42nd-minute sending off.

Bonucci was initially booked on the half hour for dissent before a second yellow card for a raised elbow in an aerial challenge with Sergio Busquets.

"About Leo, he was a bit naive tonight and in this type of game you cannot make these mistakes," Mancini said.

"It's true that the red card had an impact on the rest of match. Until that moment Spain had more ball possession which is what they are used to. We were in a bit of difficulty, but we could have ended the first half at 1-1.

"We should not have conceded the second goal at the end of the first half. We should have paid more attention for their second goal. It's already difficult to face Spain with 11 players but when you are one man down it becomes much more complicated."

Italy coach Roberto Mancini was pleased with his side's display against Spain on Wednesday despite a 2-1 defeat ending their world-record 37-game unbeaten run.

La Roja booked their place in Sunday's Nations League final thanks to two Ferran Torres strikes before half-time.

The Azzurri's cause was not helped by Leonardo Bonucci receiving a second yellow card in between the Manchester City forward's double.

Lorenzo Pellegrini halved the deficit seven minutes from full-time, but Luis Enrique's men held firm to set up a clash with either France or Belgium in Sunday's decider.

While disappointed that his side's superb unbeaten run was over, Mancini was not too hard on his players.  

"Games are like this, sometimes incidents change them. The first half could easily have ended 1-1," Mancini told RAI Sport.

"Clearly, Spain keep the ball well, but it's disappointing to lose like this, down to 10. We made a mistake that we should not be making at this level.

"To be honest, I didn't see the second card, but that's not the point. Leo should not have got himself booked in either situation.

"Playing like this, scoring a goal and not conceding more when down to 10 men was a good performance.

"We needed some fresh legs and that helped when down to 10 men. We could've used some younger players, but I think that despite the defeat, this performance gave us strength."

 

The result was only the second time Italy have conceded more than one goal in a single match under Mancini's guidance, the previous such occasion a 3-1 defeat to France in June 2018.

Veteran defender Giorgio Chiellini echoed Mancini's sentiments and believes the defeat will make them stronger.

"It's a pity the defeat came in Milan, but there is pride for this extraordinary run of results," the Juventus defender said.

"It's a necessary stage in the growth process for a team that can still do far better. We knew it was a difficult match, we called for patience and clear minds, and sometimes you have to accept the opposition is a very strong team that causes you problems.

"It's a pity, we wanted to continue this unbeaten run, but the fact is this will help our growth process. We almost got it back on level terms when down to 10 men and 2-0 down, so that shows what we’re capable of."

Roberto Mancini has insisted Italy "have to improve" ahead of their Nations League semi-final with Spain, despite the Azzurri winning Euro 2020 in July.

Italy are also unbeaten in their last 37 games - a world record - with 30 wins and seven draws across all competitions and friendlies since October 2018.

Mancini's men bested Spain in a penalty shoot-out in the last four of the European Championships after a 1-1 draw in regular time in a fixture that Spain dominated, enjoying 71 per cent possession.

The former Manchester City and Inter head coach believes Spain remain the superior side in terms of keeping the ball and feels his team can still get better in that department.

"We suffered in that [Euro 2020 semi-final against Spain]," Mancini said. "Spain put us in trouble in possession, they have been doing it for 20 years and on this, they are ahead of us.

"We have to improve this game situation, be faster. We have to improve, we also have young players who have to play important competitions. We have 14 important months and we have to play better and better, offensive and balanced.

"[The Nations League] is an important competition. It is clear that it comes after a European Championship and preparing in such a short time is not easy but they are two matches among the four best in Europe and we want to improve, that's for sure."

Mancini also responded to Luis Enrique's claim that the Azzurri's unbeaten streak would end eventually, agreeing with his counterpart.

"We always want to win, then we know it will depend on us," Mancini continued. "[Enrique's] right, sooner or later [we will lose]. We would like to go on like this until December 2022, but we know it won't be that simple."

If Italy best Spain again on October 6, they will face one of Belgium or France in the Nations League final at San Siro on October 10.

After 15 years without success on the international stage, Italy could win a second title in three months this week as the 2021 Nations League concludes.

That may come as a surprise to some – after all, given how recent Euro 2020 was and the fact the Nations League Finals are taking place amid a busy World Cup qualification period, it wouldn't be unsurprising if most people had completely forgotten about UEFA's secondary competition.

But here we are, it's Finals week and hosts Italy have themselves a wonderful opportunity to clinch another trophy, with Portugal winning the inaugural competition – also in front of home crowds – two years ago.

France and Belgium will contest the second semi-final, with Italy going up against Spain first on Wednesday in a repeat of their Euro 2020 last-four clash, which Roberto Mancini's men won on penalties.

Italy head into the tournament amid a world-record 37-match unbeaten run, last month's draw with Switzerland and the subsequent 5-0 win over Lithuania taking them clear of Brazil and La Roja.

Of course, the Spain team that had previously equalled Brazil's world record back in 2009 were in the throes of their most successful period ever, and Italy will hope that's a sign of things to come for them.

 

Spain's semi-final hurdle

That legendary Spain side saw their 35-match unbeaten streak – a run that included Euro 2008 success – ended in 2009 by the United States.

While the Confederations Cup was never really seen as a hugely important title, hence FIFA pulling the plug on it in 2019, the USA's 2-0 win in the semi-finals 12 years ago was a fairly big deal.

Jozy Altidore's opener was the first goal Spain had conceded in 451 minutes of play and only their third concession in 17 matches, and it was added to by Clint Dempsey.

On the 10th anniversary, Spanish publication AS referred to it as "one of the biggest upsets in football history". A little hyperbolic? Sure, but it certainly was a shock.

For starters, it remains Spain's sole defeat in five meetings with the USA, while it's still their only loss to a CONCACAF nation in 23 matches.

But perhaps the key fact from Spain's perspective was coach Vicente del Bosque's assertion of it only being a "little step backward" stood the test of time – a little over a year later, Spain were World champions for the first time and then they followed that up with Euro 2012 success.

 

That made them the first team since the foundation of the World Cup in 1930 to win three successive major international titles.

It was an iconic side that was routinely filled with players who'll always be remembered as all-time greats for La Roja.

The foundation of their ascension to greatness lay in that unbeaten run, and Italy will a similar status awaits them, regardless of how long they stay undefeated for.

Star quality

Many took for granted just how many remarkable players that Spain squad contained – it's unlikely they'll ever produce the same collective greatness in such a small period.

Xavi was the metronome and, as such, a key component. He played in all but two of the 35 matches in that unbeaten run, with Sergio Ramos (31), David Villa and Iker Casillas (both 29) next on the list.

But when it came to goalscoring, one man above all was the crucial cog: Villa.

A lethal striker for Valencia, Barcelona and – to a slightly lesser extent – Atletico Madrid at the peak of his powers, Villa scored 23 goals during La Roja's famous run, almost three times as many as anyone else. Fernando Torres was next with eight.

 

Luis Enrique's current team could do with a player of Villa's skillset, given the dearth of quality available to him in that position. After all, his squad for this week has no recognised centre-forward in it, with Ferran Torres arguably the closest to fitting the bill.

Cesc Fabregas was the man supplying the best service for Spain's goals in that period, with his 12 assists the most impressive return, while Xavi and Andres Iniesta had seven apiece.

Spain's incredible run compromised of 32 wins and just three draws, while they scored 73 times and conceded only 11.

A team, no superstars

Of course, Italy's world-record effort has already proven successful, with the 37-match run including their Euro 2020 triumph.

And in certain ways, it has actually been more fruitful than Spain's, with the Azzurri scoring 93 goals and letting in just 12, though nine of those matches were drawn.

While Spain spent 174 minutes trailing, Italy have had even less time behind in matches, just 109 minutes, and 65 of those were in one match – the Euro 2020 final against England.

Italy have been much less reliant on a single goalscoring outlet as well, which is perhaps explained by the theory they are less a collection of superstars but instead a tremendous team unit.

Ciro Immobile is their top scorer over the past 37 matches, his haul of eight insignificant compared to Villa's 23, whereas Lorenzo Insigne has been their most reliable source of creativity with seven assists.

But 10 players have scored at least four times for Italy, compared to only five in that Spain team.

Roberto Mancini's comfort with rotating and being able to adapt to different groups of players has really shone through.

 

While the Spain side of Luis Aragones and then Del Bosque had 11 players feature 24 or more times, only five Italians have played that often in Mancini's run, while the most he has used any single starting XI is twice – Spain's most-used line-up was put out four times.

But the important thing most people remember when looking back at that Spain squad is not any specific unbeaten run in itself, but the wider context and history that streak was a part of.

Similarly with Italy, the vast majority of people in 10 or 15 years arguably won't give much thought to their world-record unbeaten run because winning Euro 2020 is a bigger deal.

But Mancini and Italy will surely be hoping that was just the start of a period of domination, one that Spain's unbeaten streak seemingly foretold.

 

While Nations League success isn't going to elevate them to iconic status, it does provide another opportunity to continue building on a winning mentality ahead of next year's World Cup, and the fact they are unbeaten in 61 competitive matches on home soil since 1999 is a good omen.

Succeed in Qatar and then we can start to talk about Italy's legacy.

Roberto Mancini admitted trying to win the Nations League is a daunting task despite succeeding at Euro 2020 with Italy.

Italy, who failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, underwent a transformative period under Mancini, culminating in them winning Euro 2020 – their first European Championship since 1968.

The Azzurri, led by experienced campaigners such as Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, are on a 37-game unbeaten run as they prepare for their Nations League semi-final with Spain on Wednesday.

Indeed, Mancini's side required penalties to edge past Spain in the semi-finals at Euro 2020 and the 56-year-old is expecting another tough task against Luis Enrique's men at San Siro.

"Spain were the team we struggled against most during Euro 2020. They are a good team with good players," Mancini told UEFA's official website.

"It will be a good match. [Passing the ball on the ground is] something they are the best at. We didn’t have the time to master it at their level. It will be different this time.

"It would be amazing to win [the Nations League straight] after the European Championship and it would be amazing to qualify for the World Cup early, but it won't be that easy."

 

Italy were at a low ebb when Mancini was appointed and he immediately recalled familiar faces, settling on a more attacking mindset as he attempted to instil pride back in the team.

His side subsequently achieved glory – their first triumph since the 2006 World Cup – and the former Manchester City manager expressed his delight at delivering success for Italian football.

"It was great because we made many people happy, both young and old," Mancini continued. 

"So it was something for everybody. Something that made a lot of people happy, maybe also because of these times we have been living through. The fans have been enthusiastic, and we play to entertain people. It was a wonderful time.

"The best things about the Euro's? Probably the relationship we created within the team. It was a group that worked together for 50 days and that's not easy. 

"They were hard, tiring [days], but there weren't any issues. It was the chemistry and the love, that isn't something easy to obtain.

"[The perception of the Italy team] has changed, but we can't forget that Italy is a country that has won four World Cups. [We] are the European champions and have a significant history."

Roberto Mancini is wary about the prospect of the World Cup taking place every two years, with Italy's Euro 2020 winning boss calling for talks to weigh up the FIFA proposal.

The current men's international match calendar ends in 2024 and former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is seeking to shape a new schedule in his role as FIFA's chief of global football development.

However's, the plans being pushed by Wenger have been met with opposition, with CONMEBOL and UEFA both coming out vehemently against his core idea.

The World Cup has traditionally been a tournament that has been held once every four years, and there are worries players could be overburdened and the competition devalued if it switches to a biennial event.

Mancini has not outright come out against the idea, but he wants it thoroughly examined.

"The World Cup every two years is something to be evaluated," Mancini said, quoted widely in the Italian media.

"The World Cup is fascinating because it comes once every four years. If you play every two, it would mean a World Cup, a European Championship, a World Cup, a European Championship. I don't know, we need to talk about it."

For now, Mancini is looking to build on his team's success in the recent European Championship, when they beat England on penalties in the final to be crowned kings of the continent.

The success put former Inter and Manchester City boss Mancini in the spotlight, and he has affirmed his commitment to Italy ahead of next year's World Cup in Qatar, ruling out a return to club management before that tournament.

Italy are closing in on a place in the finals, leading the way in Group C with four wins and two draws, extending their unbeaten record to an all-time record of 37 matches.

"Going back to coaching a club? Now there is the World Cup and then let's see," Mancini said. "We have to stay focused on the World Cup, we have to quickly secure qualification and we have to try to win the Nations League.

"I don't think about clubs and I am concentrated on the national team. Coaching the national team is the best thing."

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