Revitalized Italy on brink of record 10th straight win
AP, Milan :
From soccer flops to the brink of making history, Italy has come a long way in the two years since its embarrassing failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
Italy had already qualified for the 2020 European Championship - with three matches to spare - but Tuesday's 5-0 win at Liechtenstein saw the Azzurri match the national team's record of nine straight wins set under Vittorio Pozzo between 1938-39.
Victory against Bosnia-Herzegovina next month will establish a new all-time mark for the Azzurri.
"I'm not interested in the record for consecutive wins, it would mean more to win two World Cups and an Olympics like he (Pozzo) did, but I'd settle for the European Championship," Italy coach Roberto Mancini said with a smile.
It was nearly two years ago that Italy lost a playoff to Sweden and failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup - leaving the four-time champion out of soccer's biggest tournament for the first time in 54 years.
It hasn't all been plain sailing under Mancini, who was tasked with restoring the mentality and confidence in a team that had lost its way under his predecessor Gian Piero Ventura.
The enormity of the job was illustrated by the fact Mancini managed just one win in his first eight matches in charge. That came against Saudi Arabia, which was also the only team against which Italy managed to score more than one goal.
However, little by little Mancini has instilled an attacking mentality and youthful energy into the group.