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Luciano Spalletti in ‘heaven’ after Davide Frattesi double gives Italy Euro 2024 boost

MILAN – Luciano Spalletti said that he is in “heaven” in his new job as Italy coach, after Davide Frattesi got the Azzurri’s Euro 2024 qualifying campaign back on track with a brace in Tuesday’s entertaining 2-1 win over Ukraine.

The Italians occupy the second of two automatic qualifying places in Group C after Spalletti’s first victory on his home debut, which came thanks to two goals in the first 30 minutes at the San Siro from Inter Milan midfielder Frattesi.

The 23-year-old, who was picked in place of the injured Sandro Tonali, rifled in two low finishes to move Italy level on seven points with Ukraine, who scored through captain Andriy Yarmolenko, and North Macedonia.

With the job done, Italy will face Malta in October before travelling to Wembley, the site of their thrilling triumph at the last European Championship, to take on England, who lead the group by six points.

“I’ve settled in very well. It’s incredible being here,” Spalletti said.

“I feel like I’m in heaven, surrounded by blue.

“There was a lot of pressure in recent weeks, and I had to understand many things in a short time.

“We have difficulties, like everyone, but we also have obligations that we need to take on.

“And when we’re in difficulty, we need to know how to act.”

Tuesday’s win might have been by a narrow margin but there were encouraging signs that Italy were beginning to take on some of Spalletti’s methods.

Apart from a brief period after the break, the Azzurri dominated the match with a flowing brand of football reminiscent of the Napoli team Spalletti led to a historic Serie A title last season.

Missing many first-choice players, including Juventus forward Federico Chiesa, Italy could easily have won by more.

They wasted a host of chances but put in a performance which was worlds away from the dismal 1-1 draw with North Macedonia last Saturday.

“Italy played with real intensity, it was hard for us to keep up with them,” admitted Ukraine coach Serhiy Rebrov.

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“However, I believe we still have a chance to qualify.”

In Group A, Ferran Torres scored twice to help Spain earn a comfortable 6-0 home win against bottom side Cyprus.

The match also saw Barcelona prodigy Lamine Yamal become his country’s youngest-ever starter, aged 16 years and 61 days.

It was another record for the winger, who had become Spain’s youngest international and scorer last Friday, when he came off the bench to make his debut in a 7-1 win away to Georgia.

Besides Torres, Gavi, Mikel Merino, Joselu and debutant Alex Baena were also on target.

“Our objective is clear – win the rest of the games,” said coach Luis de la Fuente, whose side are six points behind leaders Scotland but with one game in hand.

“We want to finish top of the group.”

The victory offered some positivity amid the kissing scandal of Luis Rubiales, who has since stepped down as the president of the Spanish football federation.

The 46-year-old, however, continued to insist his forcible kiss on midfielder Jennifer Hermoso’s lips after the Women’s World Cup final was a “mutual act”, in an interview broadcast on Tuesday.

“What we had is a spontaneous act, an act that both consented to, which was driven by the emotion of the moment, the happiness, so I maintain that is the truth of what happened,” said Rubiales, who has been summoned by a Spanish judge to appear in court on Friday in a sexual assault investigation.

He described the kiss as “non-sexual”, having previously compared his behaviour to how he would act with his daughters, adding: “My intentions were noble, enthusiastic, 100 per cent non-sexual, I repeat, 100 per cent.

“You can imagine if you win the lottery or, hopefully, soon one day the war in Ukraine finishes, I mean celebrations will go on up and down the globe.

“People don’t ask permission, it’s just a happy, happy time and people celebrate.”

AFP, REUTERS

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