SPORT

Liecht at the end of the tunnel?

It was heartening to see an Italy goalfest after what felt like years, but Giancarlo Rinaldi won’t get too excited about thrashing 10-man Liechtenstein.

The middle road is not one often taken by football fans, particularly Italian ones. We lurch from profound despair over a defeat to ecstatic joy in victory – sometimes in the space of a few days. It is something which supporters are allowed to indulge in, of course, but Roberto Mancini will surely be working to avoid.

A 2-0 victory over Finland had many decidedly underwhelmed, but the Stadio Tardini was the scene of an all-you-can-eat goal buffet against Liechtenstein.

It prompted the more exuberant to claim that the Azzurri were back in business and a force to be reckoned with once more. However, those who have been watching more attentively in recent years will surely want a little more evidence before they get quite so carried away.

Make no mistake, this was a refreshing change to what has passed our way in recent times. Mancio’s young team – and veteran Fabio Quagliarella – showed the kind of attitude that has been sorely missing as they picked apart their hapless opponents. By the end of the night, it felt only right to omit the L from the surname of visiting midfielder Michele Polverino to make him Poverino – poor soul in Italian.

Of course, the boys in blue have made heavy weather of this kind of game in the past – although even under Giampiero Ventura they did manage 4-0 and 5-0 wins over Liechtenstein in their ill-fated World Cup qualifiers. Nonetheless, it was nice to see them go at their task with determination and vigour and rarely take their foot off the gas.

Even the post-Finland miserabilists had to crack half a smile or at least appeared to stay off social media for a wee while. Don’t worry, folks, they’ll be back with a vengeance soon to take issue with anything mildly optimistic you might care to say. So enjoy the relief while you can.

It was lovely to see old Quags get his goals, little Stefano Sensi score a header and Marco Verratti strike just moments after the commentator suggested he needed to score more goals. All of it was achieved with an approach which was light years from the drudgery we had got used to under the previous the regime. That it came on the same day that Italy’s Under-19s and Under-17s qualified for their European championships only added to the feelgood factor. But, just the same, we would all be well advised to sound a note of caution – at least for the time being.

Yes, it was great to beat Liechtenstein, but this was a side hammered 8-0 by Spain in World Cup qualification – twice – so they hardly represented a stern test. If you were looking for credentials for a serious European Nations challenge, you would be better advised to wait for the group games with Bosnia and Greece before making a judgment. Mancini will be pleased to see his team is on the right track, but anything other than two wins in these opening two fixtures was unthinkable.

Instead, it will be the Coach’s job to keep a lid on the understandable excitement that such a sizeable victory can generate. We tifosi are entitled to savour such successes and adorn them with extravagant statements about one of world football’s big hitters being on the road to recovery. Those in charge of the team, on the other hand, will know that the journey is probably still a bit longer than we would like to think it is.

This side isn’t as bad as some proclaimed it after Finland, nor as brilliant as others might wish to think after this ceremonial thrashing. But, if they can take this attitude into forthcoming fixtures, then we really might have something to get excited about.

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