FLORENCE, Italy (AP) — Newly-crowned European champion Italy is looking to start again where it left off as it chases a long-standing record.
Italy plays Bulgaria on Thursday in the first of three World Cup qualifiers in quick succession, its first match since beating England in the Euro 2020 final in July.
If the Azzurri avoid defeat at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in Florence they will match Spain’s record of 35 matches unbeaten, set between 2007 and 2009.
Italy coach Roberto Mancini recalled all the fit players from his European Championship-winning squad for the games against Bulgaria, Switzerland and Lithuania and he believes they are hungry for more success.
“I don’t think there’s a risk they could be satiated. They showed it at the Euros too, that they never undervalue matches, because they know that to play well and win you always have to be fully focused,” said Mancini who walked into Monday’s press conference to a standing ovation from reporters.
“I want us to start again from where we left off, playing well and scoring goals. I hope that happens from Thursday.”
Italy is top of Group C having won its first three qualifying games without conceding a goal and scoring six. Switzerland is three points behind the Azzurri, having played one match fewer.
“We can still improve in these 14 months from now until the World Cup,” Mancini said. “But first we have to face five qualifying matches and we could encounter problems.
“So the first aim is to qualify and then we will think about the final stage and prepare well.”
Lazio defender Manuel Lazzari has pulled out of the squad after picking up a knock during his club’s match against Spezia. Mancini said he will likely call up AC Milan’s Davide Calabria as his replacement.
The Azzurri play Switzerland in Basel on Sunday and then return to Italy to face Lithuania in Reggio Emilia three days later.