This World Cup is being experienced as a spectator looking on in the hope that the next one will be experienced up close with Italy playing a key role once more. The hope of Roberto Mancini and all of Italian football is to be back in four years time at the level of the sides who are currently competing for the title in Russia. "We’ve got a bit of time to put together a team that can do well and go to the European Championship," said the Head Coach to ‘Radio Anch’io Sport’ on Radio Uno. "I believe that a team can improve a lot in four years."
Some of the big sides have got off to a slow start in Russia with Spain, Argentina and Brazil all held to draws while Germany lost to Mexico in the dramatic opening fixtures. "I think that Brazil can win the World Cup," said Mancini. "The opening matches don’t tell you that much and I believe that all of the sides who are favourites will get out of the groups. Ronaldo, Messi and Neymar? The Brazilian was back in his first important match after injury. Ronaldo is in marvellous form. It’s hard to judge Messi negatively, he created chances and will be part of the trio that can decide the World Cup."
For Mancini, it’s a mistake to point the finger at his predecessor Gian Piero Ventura and attribute him with all the blame for the failure to qualify. "When things go badly, the only person blamed is the coach. I don’t believe that Ventura is the only one responsible, the players were on the pitch but it happens and you have to roll up your sleeves. Ours is a tough job, when you lose you’re the only person to blame."
The first match for next season will be in UEFA’s new Nations League with Portugal and Poland the other sides in the group. "I don’t think that we’re superior to Portugal or Poland but even if they’re at the World Cup, I don’t believe that they’re better than Italy either. If we work well, then we can do better. We’re already looking at our opponents up close and seeing where we can improve our style of play. We have to do it quickly and make the national team competitive."
In September, Italy will start again with young players but there will also space for veterans. "With the past call-ups, there were at least five or six players out with injury who would have been called up. The hope is that season will throw up new players and if it does, we’ll be happy to welcome them. The Italian league can suddenly allow new great Italian players to emerge. Experienced players can help this team that is young. In certain matches, experience is certainly required."
For the last friendlies, the Head Coach announced that he was thinking of calling up Barella and Cutrone but both had to pull out with injuries while they were with the Under-21 side ("We can see them live in action), the debate over the first choice goalkeeper also remains open. "I hope that all of my goalkeepers will be starters, I’m sure that they’ll play for their clubs. I rotated them to get to know them better. It’s one thing to see them up close and one thing to see them from afar."
After commenting on VAR (I wasn’t very positive about it at the start but it’s cleared up a lot of issues") and the role of Verratti ("He’s a great player, he has quality and international experience, he will play like he does in Paris"), Mancini also responded to a question on Mario Balotelli as he looks for a team for next season: "I hope that he finds one, there’s still time. I believe that Mario has quality, he needs to do well and make the most of his opportunities and do well wherever he goes."