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Soccer-Fairy tale Italy create a buzz and belief with Euros exploits

By Alasdair Mackenzie

ROME (Reuters) – Monday’s front page of Corriere dello Sport summed up the national mood in Italy rather well: “We are a fairy tale”.

The Azzurri could not have hoped for a better start to Euro 2020, winning all three matches to top Group A and set up a Last-16 tie against the runner-up in Group C.

Antonio Conte said they are “one of the candidates to go all the way”, while Claudio Ranieri described them as “an Italy team to applaud”.

Much of the excitement stemming from Sunday’s 1-0 victory over Wales is down to the way Roberto Mancini’s side dominated despite rotating eight new players into the starting line-up.

Mancini’s ability to implement a strong identity since taking over in 2018 has earned him great credit, but this was the best example of it yet.

By the end of the game, an entirely new line-up was on the pitch, including the goalkeeper, but Italy remained on top throughout.

Every member of the 26-man squad has now experienced major tournament football apart from third-choice keeper Alex Meret.

“I would sit on the bench for the national team,” said midfielder Marco Verratti.

“The 26 of us should feel fortunate to represent our country. Here we are all starters, we are all equals. Those who play give everything.”

Verratti was one of several standout performers who will give Mancini some thinking to do before the next game, along with UEFA’s man of the match Federico Chiesa and matchwinner Matteo Pessina.

“It was the perfect performance, the one everyone dreams of, to decide the victory in a major tournament. I might not sleep for a few weeks after this,” Pessina said.

The result enabled Italy to equal an 82-year-old national record of 30 consecutive games without defeat and marked their 11th win in a row without conceding a goal.

But the feel-good atmosphere in the country extends beyond the national team, with the performances of other nations’ Serie A players having not gone unnoticed.

More than a third of the goals at Euro 2020 so far – 19 out of 55 – have been scored by players from Italy’s top division.

Serie A players have also won the most man-of-the-match awards at the tournament, with nine so far. The next best is the English Premier League with five.

(Reporting by Alasdair Mackenzie; Editing by David Goodman)

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