Italy v Poland
UEFA Nations League. Friday September 7. Kick-off 7.45pm. Live on Sky Sports
I USED to rate Roberto Mancini a god. He reversed the fortunes of my beloved Manchester City after many years of being a punchline. He introduced a flair and passion that had not been seen in a many a blue moon.
Then I realised Mancini was simply in the right place at the right time. Vast quantities of cash from our Arab friends and a talented side were the real factors we snagged the number one spot that year. And after the blue flares fizzled out and hordes of middle-aged fat guys had squeezed into their old ‘Brother' tops and taken to the streets of Manchester in sheer jubilance, the hangover set in.
Roberto lasted just one year and a day after finishing next season second behind Manchester United of all teams. Add to that throwing away the FA Cup in the final against Wigan. I'm sure football fans in Turkey, Russia and Italy have similar views of stubborn Italian, as he left club after club by ‘mutual agreement ‘ and with a nice pay-off but one thing that cannot be disputed is the fact he takes risks. The man is fearless and will stick by a decision whether right or wrong.
One huge risk he took at Man City was the introduction of Mario Balotelli, a certifiable lunatic on and off the pitch but with a rare footballing gift. It looks likely the Nice No.9 will be in the starting squad for their Nations League opener. With all this in mind and Mancini still early days as the Italian national team manager what can he do to put the Azzurri back on the footballing map where they rightly belong?
To start with he can beat Poland on Friday night in Bologna. The White Eagles really struggled at this summer's World Cup. They creaked and groaned their way through what should have been an easy group, losing against Senegal and Colombia, finally scoring a win over Japan.
There is the argument that at least Poland made the World Cup, unlike the Italians, but they demonstrated just how one dimensional they have become. I cant see Jerzy Brzęczek suddenly engulfed in inspiration and think he has inherited a squad who lack hunger and stamina. The reintroduction of Kamil Glik is not enough to make Poland a serious win bet.
Italy are 4-5 to win the match on Friday evening, this is a bit cautious on behalf of the bookies and not a price I would take at this point. But I do think goals are on the menu and I would love to see Balotelli score at least one of them. He's 7-4 to score any time and 10-1 to score 2 or more.