Italy vs Portugal: Immobile’s final opportunity with the Azzurri?
Lazio striker Ciro Immobile is being strongly tipped to start Italy’s UEFA Nations League match on Saturday, November 17th against Portugal at the San Siro.
Immobile, the Napoli born attacker, has lit up the Stadio Olimpico with the Biancoclesti since joining in 2016 from Borussia Dortmund. The 28-year-old has scored 76 goals in just 102 appearances for the Romans and was the joint top scorer in both the Serie A TIM and the UEFA Europa League last season, with 29 and 8 goals respectively. However, the former Torino starlet has not been able to replicate his club form at international level, with just 7 goals in 34 matches since making his debut back in 2014. Too often he ‘goes missing’ or seems ‘disinterested in the match’ according to fans, as he fails to combine with his fellow teammates, all while not scoring at a consistent rate. This has many questioning his continued presence with Gli Azzurri…
In his nation’s last match against Poland, he was left on the bench as manager Roberto Mancini started a trident attack of Napoli’s Lorenzo Insigne, Juventus’ Federico Bernadeschi, and Fiorentina’s Federico Chiesa – no acclaimed ‘striker’. The trio worked well together, combining well, creating several scoring opportunities, but something was still missing: the ability to put the ball in the back of the net. They eventually scored a late winner through left-back Christian Biraghi, who scored with a tap-in after meeting a Kevin Lasagna header from a corner. Notice I said Kevin Lasagna?
Mancio chose to throw on the Udinese forward rather than Immobile; with the visitors desperately seeking a win to avoid relegation from the newly formed tournament, it was Lasagna’s flicked-on header that assisted Italy’s late winner. As Lasagna came in and provided a major contribution to the Azzurri winning this encounter, I wonder what might have been going on through the thoughts of Immobile… Here it was. A key game for his country who needed three points, and Immobile – being the most experienced recognizable striker – was not summoned to action.
The former Juventus youth player has not hit the back of the net for his nation since September of 2017, in a World Cup qualifier against Israel. He was average at best versus Sweden in the two-legged play-off for the World Cup, which they subsequently lost and failed to make the tournament for the first time since 1958. It is also now eight games on the bounce that he has not scored at the international level and time is running out. The game against the 2016 European champions presents probably his final chance to stake a claim to be included in the long-term plans of Mancini’s squad. As faith would have it, Bernadeschi has gotten himself injured and has had to pull out of the squad, and during the training sessions this week, Immobile has been the one to partner Insigne and Chiesa up front. Not only is Bernadeschi injured, but Mario Balotelli and Andrea Belotti were not even picked in the 27 man roster that will also play a friendly against the USA three days later.
Immobile MUST take this chance!
Italy has made steady improvements under Mancini since the debacle of the Gianpiero Ventura reign. Not only have results improved, but just as significant, the team is playing with a much more fluid style of football. What this all means is that Italy will create chances, and as the central striker, it is imperative that Immobile is ready – willing and able to take them. It is not just Bernardeschi, Balotelli and Belotti that he will have to compete with, but there are also other forwards that are available for Italy. In this current squad, there are the likes of Matteo Politano, Domenico Berardi, Leonardo Pavoletti, Vincenzo Grifo, and the aforementioned Kevin Lasagna, all of whom would be chomping at the bit to make an impact for their nation.
Immobile is most likely being given the nod versus Portugal as he is the most experienced and as per usual, he is in form with Lazio. He already has 8 goals in 11 league matches to go along with 1 in the Europa League (which Lazio have already qualified to the knock-out stages), and in his last two games, he has also provided vital assists to his team. He needs to bring that form to the Italian national team – he must bring that form to the Italian national team. Saturday night at the San Siro is a big stage: can Immobile take his chance at La Scala del Calcio?