Record-chasing Italy becoming team to fear; Bale and Wales swim against tide in Denmark clash - GulfToday

Record-chasing Italy becoming team to fear; Bale and Wales swim against tide in Denmark clash


Wales’ Gareth Bale takes part in a training session in Amsterdam on Friday. Agence France-Presse

Italy’s unbeaten streak won’t last forever, and Austria coach Franco Foda is plotting to be the one to stop it.

The Italians have become one of the favorites at the European Championship after winning all three of their games in the group stage, scoring seven goals and conceding none.

Those three victories at Euro 2020 extended the team’s unbeaten streak under coach Roberto Mancini to 30 games - matching the previous record set in the 1930s.

“Initially it seemed to be an insurmountable and impossible challenge for us, because they haven’t lost for an eternity,” Foda said. “But sooner or later even Mancini’s team will lose.”

Austria, which has reached the round of 16 at the tournament for the first time, will get its chance on Saturday at Wembley Stadium.

Besides the unbeaten streak, Italy will also be trying to set another record. The team has not conceded a goal in 11 matches, a total of 1,055 minutes. If Austria fails to score, Italy will surpass the record of 1,143 minutes set between 1972 and 1974.

For a team that failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, Italy’s recent results are quite remarkable.

“It’s something that makes us proud, especially considering what they thought of us before the tournament started,” Italy forward Lorenzo Insigne said. “But we have to stay focused, calm and think about ourselves. We haven’t done anything yet. Our objective is to go all the way, it wasn’t just to get through the group stage.”

The 30-year-old Insigne embodies Italy’s transformation under Mancini.

The previous coach, Gian Piero Ventura, lost the squad’s support during a World Cup playoff loss to Sweden when he left Insigne - considered the team’s most talented player - on the bench.

Insigne has formed a strong partnership with Ciro Immobile, who has finally been able to translate his scoring success in Serie A to the international stage.

“It’s the first time that I’ve played in such an important event at this level, in such an important role,” Insigne said.

“In the past other coaches have used formations that were less compatible with my style of play, although I have always made myself available. Now Mancini is using a system of play that is more suited to me and to other players’ characteristics.”

Insigne already has experience scoring at Wembley, in a 1-1 draw against England in a friendly in 2018.

Italy is playing with such spirit that the buzzword among the Azzurri players is “fairytale.”

No one embodies that more than Giacomo Raspadori, a 21-year-old Sassuolo forward who hadn’t even played a game for Italy when he was named in the 26-man squad for the tournament.

Raspadori was brought on as a substitute in Italy’s final group match against Wales, making only his second appearance for his country.

Denmark take on Wales: Gareth Bale and Wales may have been the neutrals’ favourites during their rousing run to the semi-finals of the last European Championship, but as they prepare to face Denmark in the last 16 in Amsterdam on Saturday the goodwill is likely to all be for their opponents.

The Danes managed to qualify for the knockout phase in second place in their group despite the enormous emotional impact of Christian Eriksen’s cardiac arrest during their opening game against Finland in Copenhagen.

After the trauma of seeing their star player require CPR on the pitch, Kasper Hjulmand’s team lost 1-0 to their Nordic neighbours and then went down 2-1 to Belgium, but a thrilling 4-1 win over Russia was enough for them to advance.

And so they come to the Netherlands with the aim of winning a knockout tie at the European Championship for the first time since they stunned the continent to win the trophy itself in 1992, defeating Germany in the final in Gothenburg having famously only qualified because war-torn Yugoslavia disintegrated.

Saturday marks exactly 29 years since that game, and this time the Danes, now ranked as the 10th-best side in the world, should be favourites against Wales as they look to go as far as possible for Eriksen, who spent six days in hospital after his collapse, undergoing surgery to have a defibrillator implanted.

“It’s hard to describe what this team has been through the past four weeks. We’re thinking about Christian all the way,” said Hjulmand after the victory over Russia.

When the teams met twice in the Nations League in late 2018 Denmark won on each occasion, including a 2-0 home victory in which Eriksen scored twice.

Agence France-Presse

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