‘Manuel played a great match’
Manuel Locatelli timed his run into the Italy team almost as well as he timed his run for the Azzurri's opening goal against Switzerland on Wednesday.
The midfielder swept a volleyed pass out to the right wing to Domenico Berardi, before racing half the length of the pitch to get on the end of his Sassuolo team mate's cross and fire home.
Locatelli followed that up with a superb left-footed strike from the edge of the box in the second half to top off a night in which he announced himself to a global audience.
"Two goals for a midfielder are not easy at all and not a given," Roberto Mancini said. "Manuel played a great match. His action in the first goal was great." Of all the talented youngsters in Mancini's side, Locatelli has benefited most from Euro 2020 being postponed by a year.
The midfielder earned his first Italy cap in September last year, after the tournament was originally scheduled to take place.
He soon became a central part of Mancini's plans as his international form matched the progression he was showing under Roberto De Zerbi for his club.
Since his debut, in a 1-0 Nations League win over the Netherlands, Locatelli has featured in 11 of Italy's 13 games.
"The pandemic helped me a bit, then with work and determination I got here," Locatelli said after the game.
Major tournaments tend to throw up unexpected heroes and Locatelli has already achieved that status with his brace against the Swiss that helped Italy to become the first side into the last-16 of Euro 2020.
His emotional reaction after the opener even earned comparisons with Marco Tardelli's iconic 1982 World Cup final celebration.
It was unexpected mostly because Locatelli is not known for his goalscoring prowess, and this was the first brace of his career.
Locatelli, who won the 'star of the match' award, has now given Mancini a selection conundrum.