Legendary Italy striker Luigi Riva hailed the “beautiful work” of national coach Roberto Mancini on the eve of their Euro 2020 opener against Turkey in Rome.
Riva was a member of the Azzurri’s only European Championship winning team 53 years ago, scoring in the final against Yugoslavia in Rome’s Stadio Olimpico.
After a 1-1 draw two days earlier in the first leg, Riva scored the opening goal as they lifted their only European trophy thanks to a 2-0 win.
“It was a beautiful atmosphere but when I scored I was mostly afraid I was offside,” recalled the 76-year-old, who remains Italy’s all-time leading goalscorer with 35 goals in 42 appearances between 1965 and 1974.
It was not his most important goal, Riva prefering the one he scored in the 1970 World Cup semi-final 4-3 victory over West Germany in Mexico.
But it helped Italy claim the trophy, with two runner-up finishes against France in 2000 and Spain in 2012.
“When you win a competition like the World Cup or a Euro, there’s a superb satisfaction!” said Riva.
“After the match in Rome, I went out for a walk around town, walking throughout the night, together with the cheering fans,” recalled the player known as ‘Gigi’.
A native of northern Italy, Riva arrived in Cagliari in 1963 at the age of 18, and has made Sardinia his home ever since.
He won just one Italian league title with Cagliari in 1970, and was briefly manager of the Mediterranean island club before being involved in coaching Italy from 1990 to 2013.
“I still find football beautiful today, it’s total football although still very tactical, where the role of attackers has evolved,” he explains.
“We played a game more based on counter-attacks. Today it’s a more collective football and the attackers must take part in the move.”
Riva believes Mancini has found the right formula with the national team, since taking over in May 2018 after the Azzurri failed to qualify for that year’s World Cup.
“I really like Mancini. I knew him as a player when I was manager of the Italy team. I know the person, he’s a really good person, who achieves excellent results.”
‘It’s emotional’ –
Mancini’s Italy have lost just two matches, and are undefeated in 27 games since September 2018.
“Mancini’s success is first and foremost his ability to make Italy play a modern game, he has adapted perfectly,” explained Riva.
But the former striker expertly dribbles the question of which players stand out for him in the national setup.
“No, I’m not quoting anyone… This team is above all the work of a great character who is Mancini,” continued Riva, nevertheless making an exception for former Cagliari midfielder Nicolo Barella.
“He’s different, it’s emotional, as a Sardinian. And then he attended my football school, so obviously for him, I have a special thought.”
But can Barella, and the likes of Marco Verratti, and Gianluigi Donnaruma go all the way this time.
“But certainly, you never play to lose, do you?” replies Riva. “My only advice is to believe in your own potential.
“Today the Italian team cannot fail to think about winning, they must be confident in their abilities.”
Due to his fragile health Riva may not be able to travel to Rome’s Stadio Olimpico where his Italy and that of teammates Dino Zoff, Sandro Mazzola and Pietro Anastasi shone all those years ago.
“Rome, we’ll see… It would be especially wonderful to be able to go see Italy in the final!”