Italy’s youth on show in Serie A after Ronaldo, Lukaku exits

National Sports

ROME (AP)The departures of Cristiano Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaku from Serie A should open the way for younger players to shine in a league that has historically relied on veterans.

Moise Kean, who replaced Ronaldo at Juventus, and Giacomo Raspadori, the rapidly developing Sassuolo forward, are two of the rising players to look out for.

The two 21-year-olds, who were born 10 days apart, showed off their potential in Italy’s 5-0 rout of Lithuania on Wednesday.

Kean scored twice while Raspadori scored once and created an own goal from Lithuania.

”It wasn’t important just to have scored a lot of goals. Beating Lithuania was expected but winning by such a big margin wasn’t,” Italy coach Roberto Mancini said, noting how Group C rival Switzerland narrowly beat Lithuania 1-0. ”It was also important to have done it with younger players. Now I hope they can play in the league. That’s the only way for them to improve.”

Fresh off leading Italy to the European Championship title, Mancini has been a proponent of using younger players ever since he took over the national team following the Azzurri’s embarrassing failure to qualify for the World Cup.

In September 2018, Mancini called up Nicolo Zaniolo, then 19, before the talented midfielder had even played a top-division match for his Roma club.

While Zaniolo has struggled with injuries in recent seasons and therefore missed Euro 2020, he was back with the Azzurri over the past week and again showed glimpses of why he’s expected to be a key figure for Roma and Italy over the next decade.

During the Euros, midfielders Manuel Locatelli (aged 23) and Matteo Pessina (24) were revelations. Locatelli then made a 25 million euro ($30 million) transfer from Sassuolo to Juventus, while Pessina is one of the reasons why Atalanta is considered a legitimate title contender this season.

In defense, AC Milan fullback Davide Calabria (24) and Inter Milan center back Alessandro Bastoni (22) have also been prized by Mancini.

While Inter lost Lukaku to European champion Chelsea, the Serie A champion’s defense is still sound with Bastoni and Stefan de Vrij.

”(Bastoni) is the future left central defender of the national team,” Mancini said.

As for Kean, the performance against Lithuania was liberating after being one the last players cut from the Euros squad.

”It’s all at his feet, and above all, in his head,” Mancini said. ”He’s got strength and speed and he can play on the wing or at center forward. So if he works hard on that he can have a really bright future. But he’s got to remember that (soccer) careers are not that long and that you’ve got to take advantage of the moment.”

Mancini’s remark about career length may have been an indirect reference to Mario Balotelli, another prodigy who the coach once championed when he managed at Inter and Manchester City.

Now 31 and playing in Turkey with Adana Demirspor amid a nomadic career that hasn’t lived up to its earlier expectations, Balotelli failed to take advantage when Mancini gave him a chance to rejoin Italy’s squad in 2018.

Meanwhile, Raspadori has already scored nine goals in 41 career Serie A matches and is studying for a university degree.

”He’s young and he needs more experience but he’s ready,” Mancini said.

Gianluca Scamacca (22), another Sassuolo product who has been compared to former Italy center forward Christian Vieri for his physical power, also featured against Lithuania.

So, with Sassuolo visiting Roma on Sunday, it should provide a perfect opportunity to admire Italy’s younger talents.

Kean could also feature when Juventus, which has only one point from its opening two matches, visits Napoli.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Andrew Dampf is at https://twitter.com/AndrewDampf

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Trending Stories