Roberto Mancini urged Italy to put in a performance worthy of the “footballing Mecca” of Wembley when the Azzurri face Austria in the last 16 of Euro 2020 in London on Saturday.
Italy impressed in the group stages by winning all three games without conceding a goal to top Group A, extending their unbeaten run to 30 matches in all competitions.
They go into the clash against Austria, who finished second in Group C, as big favourites to progress to a quarter-final against Portugal or Belgium in Munich, but it will be their first game of the tournament outside of Rome.
“You always need to enjoy playing at Wembley. It is a pleasure because some players never get an opportunity to play in this stadium. It is a wonderful arena and the guys need to produce a big performance because that is what this stadium deserves,” Mancini told a news conference.
“You want to be involved in matches in arenas like this. The players need to be happy to be playing at Wembley. When you play in a footballing Mecca like Wembley, you need to respect it and produce a big performance and I hope they do that tomorrow – in fact, I am sure they will.”
Mancini has already given game time to 25 of the 26 players in his squad and the Italians impressed in a 1-0 win over Wales in their final group game despite the manager making eight changes to his starting line-up.
“Everyone has given me a selection headache because they have all played very well,” Mancini said.
“We made those changes against Wales and the same went for when we brought on substitutes in the previous matches. It is great to be able to count on the players who are all fit and firing, and all fairly relaxed from a mental perspective. That could be an advantage for us.”
There was much talk in the Italian media about whether the Italian players would take a knee ahead of the game against Austria, an anti-racism gesture taken by several teams, but defender Leonardo Bonucci said the squad is yet to decide.
“When we go back to the hotel, we have planned a meeting and will decide as a team,” he said.
“That is what we should have done before Italy v Wales, and we will have a team meeting this evening to decide what we will do tomorrow.”
When asked about it, Mancini replied: “The most important thing is one’s freedom to choose.”
Austria are the clear underdogs going into Saturday’s Euro 2020 last 16 match against mighty Italy but even a slim chance could be all they need for an upset and a spot in the last eight, said Austria coach Franco Foda on Friday.
In their three group matches, the Azzurri have faced only 12 shots, on or off target, and also have kept a clean sheet in each of their last 11 matches in all competitions, going 1,055 minutes – 17 hours and 35 minutes – without conceding since last October.
“The Italians have been the most convincing so far in the tournament,” Foda told a news conference.
“They won all their group matches. Especially in the third group game where they made many changes but again left a solid impression.
“Percentage-wise it is difficult to say (what Austria’s chances are) but even if it is just 10%, there is a lot you can do with 10%,” he added.
The Austrians, who had never won a game at the Euros before this tournament, reached the second round of an international tournament for the first time in 39 years, with the team having last made an impact at the 1982 World Cup.
They won two group games to finish second in their Group C behind Netherlands.
“We have our qualities. Italy will have respect for us and they will have seen that we can also be aggressive. There are many things that are in our favour as well but obviously we are the clear outsiders,” Foda said.
“The team has achieved something extraordinary so far by qualifying to the knockout stage but now we are in the round of 16 and we want to do everything to take the next step to Munich (for the quarter-final).
“We cannot allow mistakes against them but we also want to attack,” he added.
The winner of their game faces either Portugal or Belgium in Munich on July 2.