Roberto Mancini believes it is "very unfair" that the vast majority of the 60,000 spectators expected at Wembley on Tuesday for the Euro 2020 semi-final between Italy and Spain will not be from the respective countries.
Wembley is hosting both semi-finals, and the final on Sunday, and there is scope for 75 per cent of the venue’s 90,000 capacity to house fans in each of the three games after a deal between the UK government and Uefa last month. That is a rise from the 41,973 spectators who witnessed England’s last-16 victory against Germany at Wembley last week and the crowd on Tuesday will be by far the biggest at a British sporting event for 16 months.
As since the start of Euro 2020, only UK residents who are fully vaccinated or can show proof of a negative lateral flow test from the previous 48 hours can be at Wembley. Although that does not rule out Italians and Spaniards being at the fixture on Tuesday, no one is able to fly over specially, which Mancini believes is far from ideal, or right, given the significance of the occasion.
“I think it’s pretty unfair if I’m perfectly honest,” the Italy head coach said. “We’re better off playing in front of any crowd as opposed to playing in front of a small number of people; that’s what’s great about football and entertainment in general. But I do think it’s very unfair that we don’t have half the stadium full of Italian fans and half the stadium full of Spaniards.”
Mancini can at least take heart from the outcome of Italy's last game at Wembley – their extra-time victory against Austria in the last 16, and from the form of his side in general. They are unbeaten in 32 fixtures, breaking a national record that had lasted since the 1930s, and victorious in their past 13, with the most recent of those arguably their most impressive – the 2-1 win against the much-fancied Belgium in Munich on Friday.
Little wonder, then, that the Azzurri are most people’s favourites to win on Tuesday, something Mancini accepts is the case but which he insists has not led to complacency among his staff or squad.
"I hope it is right [that Italy will win] but we know it won't be that easy," the former Manchester City manager said. "We know that we need to produce a big performance because Spain are a top side. Despite the fact they have brought through some younger players, they still have an excellent squad and a very capable coach, so it will be a tough match, just as it was against Belgium.
“The difference is that the two teams have a different style of play, so we need to prepare for a different style of match.”
Mancini will be without Leonardo Spinazzola for Italy's first tournament semi-final appearance in nine years after the influential left-back ruptured an achilles tendon against Belgium. But Rafael Tolói and Andrea Belotti should be fit after sustaining knocks in recent days.
Mancini all but confirmed Ciro Immobile would again start in attack. The Lazio striker has scored twice at the tournament but not in Italy's past three games, leading to questions over his place.
“Ciro Immobile is still the proud recipient of the [2019-20]European Golden Shoe, I believe,” said Mancini. “He has scored more goals than anyone else during the past few years and often in a major tournament it is the most maligned player who can prove to be the match-winner, so we’re fairly relaxed on that score.” – Guardian