Italy hammer Liechtenstein for perfect Euro 2020 run and record
VADUZ, OCT 16: Andrea Belotti scored a second-half brace as already-qualified Italy overran Liechtenstein 5-0 on Tuesday to stretch their perfect run in Euro 2020 qualifying to eight games and match an 80-year Italian record.
Roberto Mancini's side were assured of top spot in Group J after a 2-0 win over Greece in Rome on Saturday.
Federico Bernardeschi gave Italy the lead after just two minutes in Vaduz but it was not until the last 20 minutes that the 'Azzurri' hammered home their domination with four late goals.
Belotti headed in twice for a second-half brace with Alessio Romagnoli and substitute Stephan El Shaarawy also scoring near the end.
Mancini celebrated his ninth win in a row as Italy manager to draw level with the record run of legendary Vittorio Pozzo back in 1938-1939.
Pozzo won the first two of Italy's four World Cup titles in 1934 and 1938 and gold in the 1936 Berlin Olympics
"I'm more interested in his record of two World Cups and the Olympics, but even just winning Euro 2020 would be enough," said Mancini.
The 54-year-old former Inter Milan and Manchester City manager took over in May 2018 after Italy's failure to qualify for the World Cup.
Liechtenstein are already eliminated from the European tournament and they also lost 6-0 to Italy in Parma last March.
With qualification already in the bag, Mancini rang the changes with Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Marco Verratti the only survivor from the Greece game.
The 26-year-old took the captain's armband with Leonardo Bonnucci rested, as Napoli defender Giovanni Di Lorenzo got his senior Italian debut aged 26, with winger Vincenzo Grifo, also 26, getting his first start.
Roma midfielder Nicolo Zaniolo, 20, made his first senior start having come off the bench in his three previous appearances.
Brescia midfielder Sandro Tonali, 19, was also given his first international debut in the second half.
"We struggled a bit because we didn't find the second goal right away, but with so many changes it was inevitable to spend a little time finding the right chemistry," said Mancini.
"The important thing is that all the kids are really involved.
"And the truth is that in June, I will be forced to make choices and some good players will have to stay out."
With only pride to play, for the hosts threatened early with Dennis Salanovic testing Salvatore Sirigu after just one minute.
A minute later Italy were ahead with Belotti setting up Cristiano Biraghi who connected with Bernardeschi to finish off for his second goal in a row after Greece last weekend.
Belotti broke through for the second with 20 minutes to go getting his head to the end of Freiburg winger Grifo's corner.
El Shaarawy, who plays for Shanghai Shenhua, came on for Zaniolo after the hour mark, and set up Romagnoli for the third before scoring himself with eight minutes to go.
Belotti completed the rout when he dived to meet a Di Lorenzo cross for his second goal on the night as Liechtenstein fell to their sixth defeat in eight games, having held Greece and Armenia to draws.
"Liechtenstein brings me luck, especially here as I got a brace last time too," said Belotti, with five of his eight Italy goals against the team.
"We're a completely different team from the one that lost the World Cup play-offs to Sweden two years ago.
"It's right that Italy are back where we belong."
Italy next play Bosnia and Herzegovina on November 15 with Liechtenstein travelling to second-placed Finland Liechtenstein. -AFP