Insigne in Spotlight as Italy Look to Bury World Cup Demons in San Siro

AFP
Lorenzo Insigne will be in the spotlight as Italy return to the San Siro for Saturday's Nations League clash against the European champions Portugal 12 months after their dramatic failure to qualify for the World Cup finals for the first time in 60 years.

Lorenzo Insigne will be in the spotlight as Italy return to the San Siro for Saturday's Nations League clash against the European champions Portugal 12 months after their dramatic failure to qualify for the World Cup finals for the first time in 60 years.

Relegated to the bench by former coach Gian Piero Ventura for the entire second leg of the play-off lost to Sweden, the Napoli winger did not play a direct role in Italy's humiliating exit.

A year on and the versatile 27-year-old has become an integral part of the new Italy side being built by coach Roberto Mancini, which is fighting for a place in the Nation's League semi-finals.

Insigne has started five of the seven games Mancini has overseen -- two wins against Saudi Arabia and Poland and three draws.

"It hurts to think about it. More than the bench that evening, it hurts me to think that didn't qualify," said Insigne.

But despite his goal-scoring form with Napoli -- seven in 12 league games this season -- Insigne has struggled to deliver on the same scale for the national team.

Saturday's match, to be played on front of a capacity crowd of 70,000 at the San Siro, will be Insigne's 30th, but he has scored just four goals in six years and is still waiting for a first under Mancini.

"In the national team we meet once a month so it is more difficult (to replicate club form)," he explained.

"I think it's normal to do better for your club, in Naples we have been the same team for the past three years, even though was have changed coach."

His seven goals this season are also the result of being moved closer to the strikers by Napoli coach Carlo Ancelotti.

"It's been my best season since I started playing for Napoli.

"Ancelotti and Mancini are alike, they have the same management style, they think the same way, because of this I feel good here.

"I hope to give the national side what I give at home in Naples."

Chiellini Century

Italy are two points behind Portugal in Group 3 having played a game more than Fernando Santos' side.

Portugal, without Juventus star Cristiano Ronaldo, beat Italy 1-0 in Lisbon two months ago, and need just a point to make the finals.

Italy meanwhile need to beat Portugal on Friday and then hope Poland do them a favour on Tuesday in their final game.

"First place in the group is difficult, but it is not impossible," said Insigne.

"We have grown a lot in the last two games, but we need to be smarter in front of goal."

Mancini got his first competitive win with a last-gasp 1-0 win over Poland a month ago.

It was the first victory for the four-time world champions since a 1-0 victory over Albania in World Cup qualifiers over a year ago, and the best Azzurri performance for a long time.

"We lost in Portugal by playing a very young team, but now we have the chance to beat them at San Siro, then we'll see what happens in Portugal-Poland," said Mancini.

"I want to see a team that attacks above all for the San Siro crowd, a stadium that fills up every time Italy arrives."

The game will also be the 100th cap for veteran captain Giorgio Chiellini, who had considered retiring after the World Cup exit.

"The World Cup is an eternal regret. But when the coach of the national side calls you have a moral obligation to answer," said Chiellini.

After the Portugal game, Italy play a friendly against the United States in Belgium.