ROME – Italy closed a successful Euro 2020 qualifying campaign in boisterous fashion and look now ahead to knowing their opponents in the final phase of the tournament, which opens in Rome next June.
The Azzurri beat visiting Armenia 9-1 on Monday to keep a perfect 30-point record in Group J, where they secured top spot with three games left, qualifying along with Finland.
"It's a special year, a 2019 to remember," football federation president Gabriele Gravina said. "This team has shown all that it's worth, while changing a lot and launching a lot of young players."
Gravina's words were a compliment to Roberto Mancini, who set a new record with 11 straight wins as Azzurri coach while calling up 18 new players, most of them youngsters, since opening his tenure in May 2018.
Mancini has said he is already worrying about having to weed out players for the tournament's list of 23 and looks to tactical tune-ups in a couple of high-profile friendlies next year.
Meanwhile, he awaits the draw that organizing body UEFA will hold in Bucharest on November 30.
"Getting back to a place in Europe's top four? If we keep this up, everything will be fine," he said, keeping a low profile as the four-time world champions hope for a continental triumph they clinched only once in 1968.
As other groups await completion, La Nazionale, with a maximum point tally and a 37-4 goals difference, are poised to be among the top seeded teams at the Bucharest draw, where UEFA will confirm that the Azzurri will play the opening game of the itinerant event on June 12 in Rome.
Praise for Mancini's choices has been widespread as he had four players make their debut in the last two games and watched Nicolo Zaniolo, a 20-year-old attacking midfielder from Roma, open his international scoring with a brace in Palermo.
Zaniolo had his first call-up in September 2018, having not yet appeared in the Serie A, and last March came on for the first of his five games with the Azzurri.
"Tonight I saw another dream come true," he said. "The next would be to be called up for the European Championship. I have been criticized in the past (for lack of discipline at Italy's under-21 squad), but this is part of the game."
Zaniolo also set up veteran Ciro Immobile for the second goal in a brace that brought his tally with the Azzurri to 10 goals.
"I'm happy for myself and my teammates, the coach and the staff," said the Lazio striker, who tops the Serie A chart on 14 goals form 12 games.
"We had a convincing campaign, we had fun and we thank the crowd in Palermo, but also those at other stadiums where we've played and we hope that it will be the same at the European Championship."