Rome (AFP) – Long overlooked in the national team set-up, Lorenzo Insigne served notice of his intentions at Euro 2020 with a sublime goal in Italy’s impressive opening win against Turkey.
Under Roberto Mancini, the 30-year-old Napoli captain has finally been given his chance to shine on the international scene as a starter, a position he hopes to keep on Wednesday in Italy’s second Group A game against Switzerland.
“Do I feel like a leader? No, only older,” said Insigne, who made his international debut nine years ago and has scored nine times in 42 appearances, with five goals coming during Mancini’s spell in charge.
It was nearly four years ago that Azzurri manager Gian Piero Ventura’s refusal to utilise Insigne from the bench in a goalless draw against Sweden condemned the four-time World Cup winners to miss out on the finals for the first time since 1958.
On that November night at the San Siro, former World Cup winner Daniele De Rossi, when told to warm-up, pointed to Insigne, angrily asking: “Why should I go on? We don’t need a draw, we need a win.”
At the time, Insigne was on top form for Napoli, having scored 20 goals in all competitions the previous season.
But the winger did not fit Ventura’s rigid tactics, and he never made it onto the pitch that night, after a brief appearance in the first leg.
Called up to the national side under Cesare Prandelli in 2012, Insigne has been in all the Italy coaches’ squads since, but never regarded as a key player.
During the 2014 World Cup he had a mere spectator’s role during a group-stage exit, and again at Euro 2016 under Antonio Conte, when Italy lost on penalties to Germany in the quarter-finals.
On Friday, he got his big chance, his first as a starter in a major international tournament.
“Insigne is fundamental for us,” said Mancini. “For the role of linking things together. He’s an important player for our game.”
And Insigne repaid Mancini’s trust with a relentless performance, powering up and down the wing for 80 minutes before curling in the third goal of the night.
– ‘Right frame of mind’ –
At Napoli, where he has scored 109 goals in almost 400 games since 2010, it was a mixed 2020-21 season for Insigne.
He hit a personal best 19 league goals in Serie A, but missed a penalty in the Italian Super Cup defeat by Juventus and saw Napoli miss out on the Champions League.
But he has found his place in an Italy side alongside long-time friend Ciro Immobile of Lazio, who also scored against Turkey to bring his tally to 14 international goals.
“The coach has got us in the right frame of mind to express ourselves as best we can and have fun,” said Insigne, who played alongside Immobile and Domenico Berardi on Friday.
Rivals for a forward position include Torino’s Andrea Belotti, Juve pair Federico Bernardeschi and Federico Chiesa, and Sassuolo youngster Giacomo Raspadori, who has been included in the squad for the first time.
“The strength of this Italy? It’s the group. The coach has created a great group,” added Insigne.
“No one is assured of a place, whoever plays knows what we have to do, to put ourselves at the service of each other.”
Mancini could decide to rotate some players, with Chiesa and centre-back Francesco Acerbi ready to step in, but a chance to seal a last-16 berth with a game to spare may be too tempting to take any risks.
Italy, European champions in 1968, head into the game on a 28-match unbeaten run, as they look for a 10th consecutive win with a clean sheet.
Switzerland, who reached the last 16 in 2016, were held to a 1-1 draw by Wales in their first game, despite forward Breel Embolo’s opener.
The strength of the Swiss is a midfield powered by Atalanta’s Remo Freuler, Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka and Liverpool’s Xherdan Shaqiri.
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