Roberto Mancini and his resurgent Italy haven't won anything (yet), but the manager can make calcio history by tying a more than 80-year-old unbeaten record on Sunday (6 p.m.) against Wales at Rome.
A 30th game in a row without defeat would give the Azzurri first place in the group, already qualified for the knockout stages of the Euro after their two great victories against Turkey and Switzerland (twice 3-0).
Wales (2nd), also off to a good start with 4 points to be at least in the best third, would ensure the eighth with a draw.
Gareth Bale and others, semi-finalists of Euro-2016, will even be first in case of success at the Olimpico.
But for that to happen, we need to bring down an undefeated Italian team since September 2018, against Portugal (0-1).
In March, when he had equaled the 25 unbeaten matches (2004-06) of Marcello Lippi, the coach crowned world champion in 2006, Roberto Mancini had this formula: "I will be happy to join him in December 2022!" , implied by succeeding like him to lift the World Cup, in 18 months in Qatar.
On Sunday, the series can reach 30 units (24 wins and 5 draws to date), to equal his distant predecessor Vittorio Pozzo, between 1935 and 1939. A coach who for his part offered Italy its first two world stars ( 1934 and 1938), a double which is yet another challenge for Mancini (even if he has just extended until the World-2026!).
- First or second?
The all-time unbeaten record, on a world scale, is 35 matches, held jointly by Spain (2006-09) and Brazil (1993-96, but with a loss on penalties in the final of the Copa America in 1995).
Argentina has already made a series of 31 matches (1991-93) and France of 30 (1994-96).
Beyond the nod to history, Italy's main ambition will be to fuel its great confidence and preserve the dynamics of a team that is already running at full speed, scoring goal after goal and not taking not since ten matches.
The first place would also be a nice bonus even if, given the complex formula chosen for this traveling Euro, finishing first or second does not really change things for Italy.
Finishing in the lead would even offer Mancini's team in theory a more challenging course, with a good chance of ending up in the half of the table of Belgium (in quarters) and France (in half) if they finish them- even at the head of their group.
Second place would give the Azzurri an easier course, with the Netherlands in quarters, but also the prospect of a long trip to Baku, precisely for this quarter.
- "No calculations" -
The best is undoubtedly "not to make calculations", estimated Saturday on Sky Sport the striker Andrea Belotti.
The Torino striker should be among those who will join the starting XI - in place of Ciro Immobile at the top - to allow the holders of the first two matches to breathe after a high-intensity debut.
24 hours before this last group match, where a scorching temperature is expected in Rome (32 degrees), the question is to know how far Mancini will go in the "turn over", between the need to preserve the bodies and the desire not to not disturb the machine.
Marco Verratti, six weeks after his knee injury and a full week of training, is expected to make his comeback, at least on the bench, but possibly starting out.
Giorgio Chiellini, injured in a thigh, is already facing the eighth and should be replaced by Francesco Acerbi.
Federico Chiesa, pushed on the bench by a Domenico Berardi in great shape, could also find the ground.
The Welsh too are expected to run, although they have yet to secure qualification.
"We want to win all the matches and it will be no different on Sunday," assured coach Robert Page after the great victory over Turkey (2-0).
© 2021 AFP