Giorgio Chiellini

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Mancini wants to ‘bring Italy back where it belongs’

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MILAN (AP) A year after its stunning elimination by Sweden in a World Cup playoff, Italy is back at the San Siro stadium for another potentially decisive match.

The Azzurri have to beat Cristiano Ronaldo-less Portugal on Saturday and then hope the European champion does not defeat Poland three days later in order to reach the UEFA Nations League finals.

[ MORE: Netherlands wins, Germany relegated ]

“We would like to advance, and we’ll try to, but the No. 1 objective remains qualifying for the European Championship,” coach Roberto Mancini said on Friday.

Portugal leads Group 4 with a perfect six points, Italy has four, and Poland one.

The group winner advances to the Final Four in June. Poland is already assured of finishing last in the group and will be relegated to League B.

Mancini was hired after previous coach Gian Piero Ventura was blamed for Italy’s failed World Cup qualification.

“I see a team that wants to roll its sleeves up and bring Italy back where it belongs,” Mancini said. “Let’s be clear, we still need some time, but we’re on the right path.”

Defender Giorgio Chiellini is slated to make his 100th appearance for Italy while wearing the captain’s armband.

“I want to celebrate the achievement only at the end of the match,” Chiellini said. “First let’s focus on Portugal, try to bring home three points and provide continuity to the good work done to this point.”

Chiellini retired from the national team in the aftermath of the loss to Sweden but then changed his mind.

“The real disappointment came in June when many of my club teammates left for Russia while I was preparing my suitcases for vacation,” Chiellini said.

Fellow defender Alessio Romagnoli left Italy’s squad on Friday with a muscular injury, and Italy is also without forward Federico Bernardeschi.

Bernardeschi was a key performer in the 1-0 win over Poland last month, lining up alongside Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Chiesa.

Unable to use the same lineup, Mancini announced that Ciro Immobile will likely start at center forward.

Italy has had trouble scoring.

The last time the Azzurri scored more than one goal was in May, a 2-1 win over Saudi Arabia in a friendly , while the last time they accomplished the feat in a competitive match was in June 2017, a 5-0 victory over Liechtenstein in a World Cup qualifier.

Italy next plays the United States in a friendly in Genk, Belgium, on Tuesday.

Mancini announced Chiellini, Alessandro Florenzi, Jorginho and Insigne would be sent home after the Portugal game and Gianluca Mancini and Moise Kean would be called up from the under-21 side.

Mancini and Chiellini both expressed disappointment that Ronaldo, who is taking a break from the national team, isn’t with Portugal.

“It’s always great to face the best players,” Mancini said. “Anyhow, Portugal remains a great squad even without Cristiano.”

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Ronaldo, Chiellini: “We had been in total control” before Man Utd comeback

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To say Juventus feels a bit stung by Manchester United’s smash-and-grab in Turin is an understatement.

The hosts were in control of the match for most of the 90 minutes, going ahead through a sensational Cristiano Ronaldo goal in the 65th minute.

[ MORE: Recap | Mourinho reaction ]

But substitute Juan Mata curled a delightful free kick past Juve keeper Wojciech Szczesny, and the Italians bungled a late Ashley Young effort for an own goal in a 2-1 loss, their first at home in a group stage match since 2009.

All told, Juve out-attempted United 21-9, with both clubs registered three shots on target.

“Manchester United did nothing to win the game,” Ronaldo said. “You can’t even talk about luck, because you have to find your own luck and in this case we just gifted it to them.

“Now we’ve got to lift our heads, as we played really well and are still top of the group. … Manchester didn’t do much, they had two chances on set pieces. I know English teams are always looking for set pieces.”

One of Ronaldo’s defenders, Giorgio Chiellini, sounded equally unimpressed.

“We had been in total control, but were very wasteful and forgot the details, because we knew where Manchester United could be dangerous,” said Chiellini. “If we’re going to lose Champions League games like this, it’s best we do it now rather than later on.”

Manager Max Allegri shared similar thoughts, adding that he felt the loss was okay because it was “the least important game” of the group stage.

That’s still a bit weird, considering the away game at United would’ve traditionally been viewed as such (although they did have that win in pocket when Allegri made his comments). From

“I think it’ll do us good in the long run, as we need to learn not to fall asleep in these situations. I saw Manchester United play the same way in the Premier League at the weekend, they did very little for 80 minutes and then won in very similar circumstances.”

Mourinho praises Manchester United effort, Juve center backs

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In case you haven’t heard, Jose Mourinho wanted defensive reinforcements this summer and Manchester United was largely unable to deliver any.

[ RECAP: Man Utd 0-1 Juventus ]

Was Mourinho slyly pointing the finger again after Juventus beat Manchester United 1-0 at Old Trafford on Tuesday in the UEFA Champions League?

Maybe, or maybe he just really admires Juventus’ center backs.

The United manager mentioned center back Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini no less than three times in his recap of the loss, praising The Old Lady as well as his own side’s effort. From the BBC:

“Juventus is a different level of quality, I have to be honest. A level of quality, stability, experience, know how. The base of the team they have Bonucci and Chiellini.

“That’s the base that allows them to play with the freedom in attack. ‘Lose the ball, no problem, we are here’. We could deserve a goal for the effort of the boys but it was not possible. I have no complaints with my boys. I have a positive feeling for their effort.”

Bonucci admitted that United tried to sign him from AC Milan this summer before the 31-year-old opted for a return to Juventus.

United hosts Everton and goes to Bournemouth in the Premier League before heading to Turin for a rematch with Juventus. After that, it’s the tiny matter of a Manchester Derby at the Etihad Stadium.

Chiellini keen to help Italy after int’l retirement U-turn

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FLORENCE, Italy (AP) Veteran Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini is keen to use his experience to help the Azzurri youngsters after going back on his decision to retire from international duty.

[ MORE: What is the UEFA Nations League, and how does it work? ]

Chiellini, 34, was one of a number of players who announced they were quitting the national team after November’s playoff loss to Sweden saw Italy fail to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in nearly six decades.

However, he’s now back in the squad for the opening UEFA Nations League matches against Poland and Portugal.

“I did weigh up a few things, discussed it with my friends,” Chiellini said on Thursday. “I didn’t know if I would return, but I think that already by the next morning I had dragged myself away from that, I let all those thoughts go above my head.

“There is an atmosphere of calm, of great desire to do something, to look forward, to not think what happened. The enthusiasm that youngsters give you carries you along. Moreover, in Italy you cannot leave the national team. I hope that I will never be a problem for this group.”

Italy hosts Poland in Bologna on Friday then visits Portugal three days later. They are Roberto Mancini’s first competitive matches in charge and the Azzurri’s first since the playoff defeat.

In the absence of Gianluigi Buffon and Daniele De Rossi – who are not quite retired from international duty and available if called upon – Chiellini has been given the captain’s armband.

[ MORE: Predicting the UEFA Nations League ]

“I consider myself one of the captains of this team,” said Chiellini, who has worn the armband three times before. “There are others currently out of the side, like Daniele or Gigione, who are still playing.

“There are many young, talented players who I can perhaps help with my experience and the fact that I’m accustomed to playing at certain levels, to make them understand that something that you need in order to play with a bit more consistency. But there’s talent, it’s not true that it’s lacking.”

Chiellini needs four more appearances for Italy to reach the 100 mark, which would move him up to seventh in the all-time list for the Azzurri.

“I have never put limits on myself,” the Juventus defender said. “I’m happy to be part of this group. However, I would still be calm and happy if in October I wasn’t here.

“The number of appearances is a thought but not a priority. If I’m here it’s because I care. I like to take it day by day.”

Chiellini says Juve used “history of Tottenham”; Reflects on Astori

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Giorgio Chiellini played with passion on Wednesday as Juventus eliminated Tottenham Hotspur from the UEFA Champions League.

Following the emotional win, the stalwart Italian defender shifted gears.

Chiellini will attend the funeral of Fiorentina captain and 14-times capped Italian center back Davide Astori on Thursday, and said he’s “cried many times” over the defender.

[ MORE: The latest on Davide Astori’s passing ]

Astori died over the weekend, and Serie A postponed its Sunday matches. The 31-year-old was found deceased in his hotel room, and has since had his number retired by Fiorentina and Cagliari.

Fiorentina also guaranteed his contract for life in order to benefit his wife and children. Here’s Chiellini, from the BBC:

“We dedicate this win to him but not only this match. I cry many times, I always believe in him because he was a fantastic player,” said Chiellini, who fought back the tears during a minute’s silence before the game.

“It’s very difficult during the match because we have to think of the game and our opponents. It is not easy but he will always be in our heart. And tomorrow we go to give last ‘ciao’ with our teammates.

“It’s difficult but we have to continue our lives. For us he was important for our national team, he always brought positive emotion and always smiled. We would like to continue to smile in our heart.”

As for the match, Chiellini had some biting words for Spurs fans.

The Italian believes Juve’s mettle is what got them through, and Spurs’ lack of big game success came back to bite them.

[ MORE: Recap | 3 things from Wembley ]

“It’s the history of Tottenham,” he said. “They always created many chances to score so much, but at the end they miss always something to arrive at the end. We believe in the history. We saw it yesterday between Paris and Real, the history is important, with experience it is important, and tonight we use our skill and arrive at the win.”

It’s to the point, but there was something to the grind and vigor in which Juve pursued the win while Spurs lost their way up 1-0. Yes, Tottenham kept fighting for an equalizer, but there was a sense that The Old Lady would find a way once Higuain made it 1-1.

Juve boss Max Allegri had a similar way to sum it up: