Painful Wembley memories driving Mancini and Vialli into Spain clash

Sampdoria’s ‘Goal Twins’ seek to sooth their Wembley heartache 29 years on… Pain of 1992 European Cup final defeat by Barca is pushing Roberto Mancini and Gianluca Vialli to beat Spain and reach Euro 2020 final

  • Italy face Spain on Tuesday evening for a place in Euro 2020 final at Wembley
  • The stadium holds painful memories for Roberto Mancini and Gianluca Vialli 
  • The Italy coaches lost the 1992 European Cup final there with Sampdoria 
  • Aiming to avenge that pain, the duo are the driving force behind the Azzurri  
  • Find out the latest Euro 2020 news including fixtures, live action and results here

As Matteo Pessina drilled home Italy’s second goal to settle a tense last-16 tie against Austria at Wembley, Gianluca Vialli raced from his seat behind the technical area to embrace his great friend Roberto Mancini.

It was a display of raw emotion that went far deeper than the simple celebration of a decisive strike. Together, at this venue, Vialli and Mancini had experienced the greatest disappointment of their playing careers.

Sampdoria were beaten by Barcelona in extra time in the 1992 European Cup final, with Mancini as captain. A narrow win over Austria in the last 16 is not enough to cure 29 years of hurt, however.  

Roberto Mancini (c) and Gianluca Vialli (left) have a score to settle at Wembley at Euro 2020 

The duo embraced as they beat Austria in the last-16, now they have a shot at the real prize

Only two more victories — against Spain in the semi-final tonight and then England or Denmark in the final on Sunday — will provide the panacea.

Vialli and Mancini had fabulous playing careers, winning 22 major trophies between them, and have accumulated 13 more as coaches. If either could wind back the clock, however, there would be two chapters they would rewrite: that defeat by Barcelona and their international careers.

Vialli was supposed to fire Italy to the World Cup on home soil in 1990 but was hampered by injury and did not score in the tournament. Mancini was in the squad but did not play a single minute, and then neither man was selected for USA 94.

Unlike Mancini, Vialli did lift European club football’s greatest prize, as Juventus captain in 1996, but the wounds of Wembley four years earlier still run deep, when Sampdoria — comparable with the Alan Shearer-inspired Blackburn side of the 1990s — were felled by Ronald Koeman’s free-kick in the 112th minute.  

Mancini was on the field at the old Wembley when Barcelona beat Sampdoria in 1992 

Vialli was devastated too when Ronaldo Koeman’s free-kick secured the Catalans the win 

Between now and Sunday, they have a tantalising opportunity to right both wrongs. Mancini has described the Barcelona game as the ‘worst night of my time at Sampdoria’. 

He added: ‘The next day was even worse: you realise what a chance you wasted. I wanted to win it so badly. That cup had always been fixed in my mind and I only managed to brush past it.’

Mancini was close to losing control as he charged after referee Aron Schmidhuber following the final whistle to question the award of the set-piece from which Koeman scored the winner. During the presentation ceremony, he was virtually inconsolable.

Labelled ‘the goal twins’ because of how well they gelled on and off the pitch, the careers of Mancini and Vialli took different paths after Wembley as Vialli moved to Juventus for a then world-record £12million, but they always remained firm friends. 

Italy have had a stunning Euros and with the big favourites out, they’re on the brink of winning

The Italian fans were sent wild by the win over Belgium, wrapped up in the spirit of their team 

Mancini took the Italy job in May 2018, six months after they had failed to qualify for the World Cup in Russia, and in 2019 he made Vialli his chief of staff. Vialli had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2017, and had two separate nine-month courses of chemotherapy before he was declared cancer-free in December 2019.

‘I am so happy I’ve ended up working with my best friend,’ Vialli told the Guardian in an interview in May 2020. ‘It feels great to be able to help Roberto and I love trying to inspire the players. My contract runs to the end of the World Cup in Qatar in December 2022. We are carrying on and trying to do as much as possible.’

Mancini has not spoken often about Vialli’s illness. Another of his close friends, Sinisa Mihajlovic, was treated for leukaemia in 2019. ‘They are an example for all those who are afflicted by illness,’ he said. ‘The fact that they told their stories may have helped many people dealing with their own situations.’

Vialli’s role within the Italy set-up allows him to move between the players, coaches and support staff. Ciro Immobile, with two goals in the tournament, says Vialli has given him individual coaching.   

It will be an incredible story for the close friends if the pair can inspire Italy to the trophy 

His unruffled manner contrasts nicely with the intense, sometimes volcanic Mancini, who has surrounded himself with former Sampdoria colleagues. Another veteran of the Barcelona defeat, Attilio Lombardo, is part of the backroom team, along with former midfielders Alberico Evani and Fausto Salsano.

Football provides some of the best tales of redemption. Think of Gareth Southgate, who missed a penalty in the shootout against Germany in the semi-finals of Euro 96. Who could have imagined that he would have taken revenge on the same opponents as England manager 25 years later?

Mancini and Vialli have had happy times at Wembley before. Vialli won the FA Cup as Chelsea manager in 2000, 11 years before Mancini did the same with Manchester City.

But to win there together, nearly 30 years after losing together in such heartbreaking fashion? Now that really would be one of the greatest stories ever told.  




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