Italy searching for goals in final Nations League matches

MILAN (AP) — Still in shock from failing to qualify for the World Cup again, Italy has another pressing problem: Where to find goals?

Italy was lauded on the way to winning the European Championship last year for its free-flowing attack.

Roberto Mancini transformed Italy from the dour side that missed out on the 2018 World Cup to a team that flooded opposing nets during a world record 37-match unbeaten streak, scoring four, five, six,...

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MILAN (AP) — Still in shock from failing to qualify for the World Cup again, Italy has another pressing problem: Where to find goals?

Italy was lauded on the way to winning the European Championship last year for its free-flowing attack.

Roberto Mancini transformed Italy from the dour side that missed out on the 2018 World Cup to a team that flooded opposing nets during a world record 37-match unbeaten streak, scoring four, five, six, seven, and even nine goals at various times.

However, that attack-minded juggernaut is no more.

Italy’s doomed World Cup qualifying campaign was partly down to its lack of “cattiveria” – literally “wickedness” – in front of goal as a plague of missed opportunities cost it dearly. Even before its stunning loss to North Macedonia in the playoffs.

Mancini has pinpointed the problem. Only one of the top 13 on the Serie A goal-scoring chart this season is Italian.

That is Lazio forward Ciro Immobile, who has always struggled to replicate his club form for the national team.

“It’s an anomaly because Italy has always had great forwards,” Mancini said on Monday. “Unfortunately, it’s been a while now that the big teams here have so many foreign forwards. The only one we’ve had there for a while is Immobile.

“That creates a bit of difficulty, it’s not a small problem. We hope it’s not an irreversible one and that soon two or three forwards will emerge that can boost the national team.”

Mancini has named eight forwards in the squad for the final two Nations League group matches against England and Hungary.

Apart from Immobile, Mancini called up Lazio teammate Matteo Cancellieri, Napoli trio Matteo Politano, Giacomo Raspadori and Alessio Zerbin, West Ham’s Gianluca Scamacca, Leeds’ Wilfried Gnonto, and Freiburg forward Vincenzo Grifo.

Immobile has netted five times this season. The other seven forwards have six between them with four of them yet to get off the mark.

Italy hosts England in Milan on Friday and plays Hungary in Budapest three days later. The Azzurri are third in a group also containing Germany in the A League.

They have collected just five points from their first four games. They have five goals and conceded seven. The Italians could still top their group and qualify for the Final Four for the second straight edition, but it is also battling to avoid last spot and relegation to League B.

“The results will be important, anything can still happen in the group,” Mancini said. “We need to try to win both matches to try to finish first.

“There will be difficult months until after the World Cup. We need to get our enthusiasm back. Winning the Euros should have given us that, we need to start again from that, start again building a squad to have another extraordinary four years like that that we’ve just had.”

Mancini confirmed Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Marco Verratti was unavailable after a calf injury in Sunday’s 1-0 win at Lyon.

“He can’t even walk at the moment,” the Italy coach said. “We’ll probably call up (Sassuolo midfielder Davide) Frattesi, we’ll see.”

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