London: Roberto Mancini urged Italy to put in a performance worthy of the “footballing Mecca” of Wembley when the Azzurri face Austria in the last 16 of Euro 2020 in London tonight.
Italy impressed in the group stages by winning all three games without conceding a goal to top Group A, extending their unbeaten run to 30 matches in all competitions.
They go into the clash against Austria, who finished second in Group C, as big favourites to progress to a quarter-final against Portugal or Belgium in Munich, but it will be their first game of the tournament outside of Rome.
“You always need to enjoy playing at Wembley, it is a pleasure because some players never get an opportunity to play in this stadium. It is a wonderful arena and the guys need to produce a big performance because that is what this stadium deserves,” Mancini told a news conference.
Happy at Wembley
“You want to be involved in matches in arenas like this. The players need to be happy to be playing at Wembley. When you play in a footballing Mecca like Wembley, you need to respect it and produce a big performance and I hope they do that – in fact, I am sure they will.” Mancini has already given game time to 25 of the 26 players in his squad and the Italians impressed in a 1-0 win over Wales in their final group game despite the manager making eight changes to his starting line-up.
“Everyone has given me a selection headache because they have all played very well,” Mancini said.
“We made those changes against Wales and the same went for when we brought on substitutes in the previous matches. It is great to be able to count on the players who are all fit and firing, and all fairly relaxed from a mental perspective. That could be an advantage for us.” There was much talk in the Italian media about whether the Italian players would take a knee ahead of the game against Austria, an anti-racism gesture taken by several teams, but defender Leonardo Bonucci said the squad is yet to decide.
“We have planned a meeting and will decide as a team,” he said.
“That is what we should have done before Italy v Wales, and we will have a team meeting to decide what we will do.” When asked about it, Mancini replied: “The most important thing is one’s freedom to choose.”
Austria coach Franco Foda said that despite being “underdogs” his side were hopeful of making history with a win.
Austria advanced from the opening round at a major tournament for the first time since the 1982 World Cup, reaching the knockout phase of the European Championship for the first time.
“We know we’re the underdog and it’s difficult to judge our realistic chances but even with 10 percent you can achieve a lot,” Foda told a press conference in London.
Austria advanced second in Group C after a 1-0 win over Ukraine, bouncing back from losing 2-0 to the Netherlands.