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Euro 2020 kicks off today and it’s one of the most open tournaments in recent memory with a number of teams harbouring realistic hopes of success.
Many believe football’s coming home with huge excitement about England building. World champions France will have something to say about that but you also can’t forget Belgium and their golden generation.
Not many are considering Italy, a proud footballing nation that’s seen four World Cup wins and one European crown, as a contender for Euro 2020 though.
Failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup left the Azzurri in the wilderness but now they’re getting back to what all Italians will see as their rightful place under Roberto Mancini’s guidance.
Mancini was appointed in May 2018 and has taken them on a splendid run with Italy not losing a match since September 2018.
In typical Italian style the former Inter Milan and Manchester City boss has made them a rock in defence having kept 20 clean sheets in the 32 matches he’s been in charge.
They’ve conceded just one goal in their last 12 and have won their last eight without conceding at all.
Their Euro 2020 squad has seasoned elite professionals such as Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini but there are also a number of top players who have plenty of years ahead of them who are in their ranks too. Mancini is certainly excited about the future.
“I always believed that Italy had talented players,” he said after Italy secured their spot at Euro 2020. “We might have to wait a little for their maturation, but the talent is there nonetheless.
“At times there are situations, like missing out on the World Cup, but I still think Italian football provides some of the best players in the world.
“That is why I felt so positive going into this job, as I knew I just had to show faith and wait for the players.”
We’ll see what this new generation are made of in the tournament’s opener as Italy face Turkey in Rome on Friday night, LIVE on talkSPORT.
talkSPORT.com has picked out five stars who should be a part of Italy’s very bright future – and could even help the nation launch a serious assault on this summer’s finals too….
A title winner with Inter Milan in 2020/21, there are clearly high hopes for Barella, who’s been compared to Steven Gerrard in the past.
The 24-year-old has 23 caps for the national team, making his debut in June 2017.
A box-to-box midfielder with a relentless work ethic, Barella is very comfortable on the ball and he is a creator too, while he’s got five goals for his country in 23 games – and is capable of scoring many more.
It feels like the AC Milan goalkeeper has been around forever but amazingly he’s still just 22 years old.
Donnarumma is due to be a free agent at the end of this month and is attracing much interest.
Chelsea are rumoured to be keen, although Paris Saint-Germain are viewed as the frontrunners to sign him.
Donnarumma is somewhat of a veteran already despite his tender years having made 251 appearances for Milan, keeping 88 clean sheets.
He remains the youngest goalkeeper ever to appear for Italy, having made his debut aged just 17, and has won 26 caps.
One of the lesser known younger players in the Italian team but there are high hopes for Inter Milan’s Bastoni, 22.
A left-footed central defender, he has been primed for international football having progressed through the age levels for Italy before making his senior debut in 2020.
He has been hailed as the ‘new Chiellini’ of Italian football and played a key role in Inter’s Serie A success in 2020/21, playing 33 times for Antonio Conte’s side.
Sport Witness reported Liverpool were showing interest in the Inter defender, however Conte was not willing to sell Bastoni before suddenly leaving his post at the end of the season.
Bastoni is unlikely to start for Italy in their opening game but Mancini will be confident calling upon him if and when needed.
This guy’s name will certainly sound familiar.
Chiesa, 23, is the son of former Sampdoria, Lazio, Siena and Italy star Enrico Chiesa.
His dad was a goalscoring star of Italian football , winning trophies with Fiorentina, Parma and Sampdoria, and played at Euro 96 and the World Cup in 1998.
There are high hopes Federico will be even better, and he has already collected more caps for Italy than his old man.
The winger and forward shone for Fiorentina after making his breakthrough in Serie A and joined Juventus last summer, intially on loan with an obligation to buy.
Juve endured a disappointing season but Chiesa impressed and has been their star man for large parts, even outshining Cristiano Ronaldo.
He has great technical skills, is pacey and energetic and has an eye for goal, scoring 14 times from out wide in 2020/21.
This could be the summer he sets his international career alight.
Joining Chiesa at Juve this summer could be 23-year-old central midfielder Locatelli, who’s impressed hugely at Sassuolo.
Locatelli is being tipped for a big-money move to Turin, while he has also been linked with Chelsea and Manchester City.
However, his focus will be on forcing his way into Italy’s team.
Composed on the ball, he orchestrates the play and sets up attacks and is very much in the mould of the great Andrea Pirlo.
Marco Verratti is ahead of him in the pecking order but the Paris Saint-Germain star has been battling injury, so Locatelli could get his chance against Turkey.
talkSPORT and talkSPORT 2 will have live commentary of EVERY game of Euro 2020. You won’t miss a thing as we bring you round the clock coverage, reaction and analysis from June 11-July 11. Listen online HERE.