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Italy’s Stephan El Shaarawy was on target against Andorra. Photo: Reuters

Shanghai Shenhua’s Stephan El Shaarawy nets brace as he skippers Italy for the first time

  • Italy boss Roberto Mancini fields Italy’s ‘B-side’ as his team builds towards next year’s European Championships

Shanghai Shenhua forward Stephan El Shaarawy wore the Italy captain’s armband for the first time, scoring a brace as an experimental Azzurri side crushed Moldova 6-0 in an international friendly in Florence on Wednesday.

Roberto Mancini fielded Italy’s “B-side” as the Italians build towards next year’s European Championships, having failed to reach the 2018 World Cup.

Ex-Roma player El Shaarawy, now plying his trade in the Chinese Super League with Shanghai Shenhua, claimed his first double with the national team before going off in the second half after receiving a blow to his right eye which left him with severe swelling.

“It was worth it, it was a special evening,” said the 28-year-old, who had looked poised for a move back to Rome before his transfer fell through at the last minute.

“Scoring the first brace in the national team with the captain’s armband is an immense satisfaction.

“I had to train for a long time alone, but the important thing is to be ready when the time comes. I enjoy this evening.

Shanghai Shenhua’s Stephan El Shaarawy was set for a return to Rome last month, but the deal fell through. Photo: Reuters

“For a month I trained alone, not being able to return to China.

“I needed to play because the Chinese championship will remain stationary until February.

“This is the demonstration that you have to know how to wait, and be ready when the opportunity arrives.

It was an evening of firsts as veteran striker Francesco Caputo, 33, scored on his debut while Bryan Cristante and Domenico Berardi both got their first Italy goals.

Cagliari goalkeeper Alessio Cragno also got his first start coming on for the final 25 minutes in Florence.

“I’ve seen so many interesting things,” said Mancini after extending his unbeaten run to 17 consecutive games, with 14 wins and three draws.

“We had some difficulties in the first quarter of an hour, but I think it was quite normal, because we changed so many players.

“The mentality is the right one, even changing many elements, and this is a positive sign.”

Italy’s stars including defenders Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, who were in isolation with Juventus after two positive coronavirus cases in the Serie A team’s staff, will now rejoin the team for upcoming Uefa Nations League games.

Italy, top of their Nations Leagues group with four points, play in Poland on Sunday and face the Netherlands in Bergamo next Wednesday, with both on three points.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Heading home