Italy started their UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying campaign with a 2-0 win over Finland on Saturday, as Moise Kean bagged his debut goal for the Azzurri on his first start.
Nicolo Barella opened the scoring early with a deflected effort, but Italy never got comfortable in the first half, as Finland gave them a good game. The hosts improved after the break, however, and Kean doubled the advantage with a strong finish.
His goal made him the second-youngest scorer in Azzurri history:
Fabio Quagliarella celebrated his return to the national team setup after an absence of over 3,000 days:
The Azzurri needed to kick off their campaign in Group J on the right foot, with tricky clashes against Greece and Bosnia and Herzegovina on the horizon.
Mancini's Youthful Approach the Way Forward for Azzurri
Italy manager Roberto Mancini has committed himself to rebuilding the Azzurri, and he continued the trend on Saturday by handing two more players their starting debut and relying on youngsters elsewhere.
Barella, Kean―more on him later―and Gianluigi Donnarumma are but three youngsters expected to play a massive role for the team in the near future, while the likes of Nicolo Zaniolo and Federico Chiesa should be locks to start soon enough. The latter likely would have if not for injury:
On top of those youngsters, Mancini has also relied heavily on older newcomers and fringe players who didn't have a major role with the team in the past. Leonardo Spinazzola, Cristiano Piccini, Vincenzo Grifo and Leonardo Pavoletti are hardly the star names we've come to associate with the Azzurri in recent years.
But those big stars couldn't get the job done, culminating in the Italians missing out on the 2018 FIFA World Cup. It was a dark period in the long history of the Azzurri, and it marked the beginning of a transition to a new generation.
Those up-and-coming players have a ton of talent, and it was no coincidence one of them opened the scoring on Saturday:
Group J is one of the tougher qualifying groups because of its depth, and Greece and Bosnia and Herzegovina could give the Azzurri a real scare. But Mancini has to persist with his current approach, knowing full well the old guard might win him some matches but is no longer capable of competing with the top teams on the continent.
The youngsters might be able to in a few years, and giving them the chance to develop now could yield major dividends down the line.
Moise Kean Will Be a Superstar
Chiesa, Barella, Zaniolo and Donnarumma all have superstar potential, but the most talented of the group of youngsters is undoubtedly Juventus' top prospect, Kean.
The 19-year-old made history on Saturday, becoming the youngest attacker to start for the Azzurri in over a century:
Mancini put his faith in the youngster despite the fact Kean has made just two starts all season, with one coming in Serie A. But even though he played out of position―out wide while Ciro Immobile started centrally―he delivered, and it was poor decision-making around him that stopped him from making a bigger impact in the first half.
Piccini missed from close range after a wonderful dribble and even better pass from Kean, and Federico Bernardeschi completely fluffed his cross while his Juventus team-mate was wide-open for a tap-in.
He kept up his strong play after the break and was finally rewarded with a goal on the counter, producing an excellent finish to give goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky no chance.
Kean has almost limitless potential, combining excellent physical tools and technique with vision and natural finishing ability. If it wasn't for the fact Juventus employ one Cristiano Ronaldo, he likely would be a starter at the club level already,
It's only a matter of time before that changes, and it will be the next step on Kean's road to superstardom. Italy have been crying out for a truly elite striker for years, and the Azzurri have finally found him.
Both teams return to the pitch on Tuesday, when Italy host Liechtenstein and Finland visit Armenia.