Manager Roberto Mancini urges Italy to play without anxiety

Roberto Mancini tried to dismiss Northern Ireland’s attempts to put pressure on Italy ahead of tonight’s must-win World Cup qualifier but admitted anxiety had played a role in his side dropping points against Switzerland last week.

Monday, 15th November 2021, 1:00 pm

The European champions head to Windsor Park needing a win to be sure of beating the Swiss to a place at Qatar 2022 after Jorginho skied a late penalty in Friday’s 1-1 draw in Rome. Silvan Widmer’s 11th-minute thunderbolt had put the Swiss in charge before Giovanni Di Lorenzo levelled before the break.

Ian Baraclough said he hoped to see Italy play with a bit of fear in Belfast, something Northern Ireland might seek to exploit.

Mancini shrugged off those comments, insisting pressure is nothing new for his side, but when asked about Friday’s match, his answer was different.

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The Italy squad pictured during their training session at the National Stadium

“After the goal of Switzerland a bit of anxiety came to us,” he said. “We were at the mercy of our opponents for half an hour and conceded things we do not usually concede.

“But tomorrow is the last game. We cannot have any special thoughts. We want to qualify tomorrow and the concept does not change – we need to play without anxiety.”

If Italy were to slip, they would drop to second place – and the play-offs – were Switzerland to better their result against Bulgaria. But Mancini insisted he was relaxed.

“Bad thoughts? Bad thoughts are for serious things, this is a football match,” he said. “We must simply try to win, remembering that they have conceded little to all those who have come here.”

Mancini’s side have been hit hard by injuries during this international window. Giorgio Chiellini, Ciro Immobile, Nicolo Zaniolo, and Lorenzo Pellegrini all missed the Switzerland match, and Davide Calabria, Cristiano Biraghi, Alessandro Bastoni and Salvatore Sirigu have now been ruled out too.

Mancini has called in Davide Zappacosta and Gian Marco Ferrari, and insisted his side could cope.

“All the teams at the moment have injuries,” he said. “We are in November and the boys have played many games. We are a strong team, even if we lack important players, and we will try to achieve a result anyway.”