Azzurri no longer dark horses: Neil Humphreys
Mancini's Italy are not only winning, but they are also fun to watch
Roberto Mancini has pulled a rabbit from the hat and it's a really pretty one. He's tricked us with a lovely, deceptive act.
This isn't the Azzurri we signed up for. These Italians are impostors. They are freewheeling, entertaining impostors, certainly, but impostors all the same.
Before Euro 2020, Mancini promised to uphold Italy's ingrained defensive principles - this is the birthplace of catenaccio after all - but he also advocated a more attacking outlook.
Still, no one expected the Italians to be this much fun.
Solid, obviously, committed at the back, most definitely, but rampaging along the flanks and cutting inside for fun was a different proposition altogether.
And yet, it's happening. As they prepare for their Group A game against Switzerland tomorrow morning (Singapore time), the Azzurri are already among the most aesthetically pleasing sides of the tournament.
Their 3-0 victory against Turkey in the Euro 2020 opener was a testament to Mancini's sly commitment to reinvent the Italians.
His 4-3-3 takes risks. Apart from the immovable old guard in central defence, everything else about the Italians feels fresh and wonderfully unpredictable.
No one epitomises Mancini's attacking mantra quite like Leonardo Spinazzola. The 28-year-old left-back usually plays as a wing-back for AS Roma and took on a similar role against Turkey.
Whenever he was on the ball, the Italians were more Selecao than catenaccio, without ever compromising their established structure.
They managed 24 attempts at goal to Turkey's three for the same reason that they acquired a ninth victory in a row. Mancini has taken a squad with few established stars - Marco Verratti isn't fully fit - and created something greater than the sum of its parts.
Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci take care of themselves. Domenico Berardi and Lorenzo Insigne are wingers with a licence to cut inside and feed the reliable Ciro Immobile at every opportunity.
Jorginho has a metronomic role in central midfield, enjoying more touches and passes than almost anyone else and covering areas for his country that he can't quite reach for Chelsea, not while N'Golo Kante is still at Stamford Bridge.
Other nations boast starrier names, but few can match Italy's balance. Mancini's 4-3-3, built on the rock of Chiellini, has width, speed and a level of creative freedom not typically associated with the Azzurri.
Insigne's qualities are well known, but the lively Berardi threatens to be a surprise package at the tournament. A right winger with a favoured left foot, the Sassuolo speedster cut inside and terrorised the Turkish defence.
The Swiss should ignore him at their peril.
But then, goals and assists could equally come from Insigne, Immobile, Spinazzola or elsewhere, underlining Italy's attacking impetus.
The national mood is already upbeat, according to the Italian media, and understandably so. A win against Switzerland would confirm qualification and probably top spot in Group A (the Swiss drew 1-1 with Wales in their opener).
The prospect of a round-of-16 tie against opponents from a weaker Group C - likely to be either Austria or the Netherlands - is an added incentive to wrap up qualification early and give key performers a rest in the dead rubber.
That's the only notable weakness among the Italians. The bench doesn't quite glow with the stunning starlets of the English and French, for example.
As long as the Azzurri avoid serious injuries against the Swiss, Mancini can perhaps contemplate a lengthy stay at Euro 2020.
That "dark horses" tag no longer serves as a flimsy facade to hide behind. The Italians are ready to step into the light.