PARMA, Italy, Mar 27 – Fabio Quagliarella attributed his new-found serenity after years of a stalker nightmare to his stunning form as the 36-year-old on Tuesday became the oldest player to score for Italy.
The player from Castellammare di Stabia near Naples converted two penalties in a crushing 6-0 Euro 2020 qualifying win by the Azzurri over Liechtenstein in Parma.
Italy top Group J with six points after also beating Finland 2-0 in Udine on Saturday with goals from youngsters Nicolo Barella, 22, and 19-year-old Moise Kean.
Bosnia threw away a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 with Greece and both are behind Italy on four points followed by Finland on three.
Serie A top scorer Quagliarella has earned his recall to Roberto Mancini’s new-look Italy thanks to his 21 goals in 28 league games, two more than Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo has managed for Juventus.
And he marked his return for the Azzurri after nearly nine years by converting a penalty on 35 minutes, adding a second, also from the spot, just before the break.
The Sampdoria player at 36 years and 54 days becomes the oldest player to score for Italy, overtaking Christian Panucci who was 35 years and 62 days when he netted in 2008.
“I don’t feel my age, I feel good and I’m very serene,” said Quagliarella, whose career had been blighted by a stalker who forced him to leave Naples in 2010.
For months, a former policeman sent hundreds of anonymous letters to his club Napoli claiming the player was involved in organised crime, paedophilia and drug trafficking.
Quagliarella was only able to tell the whole story in 2017, when his persecutor was sentenced to almost five years in prison.
“It’s a wonderful evening,” said the veteran forward after scoring his ninth goal in 27 caps for Italy.
His first international start was in March 2007, with his last in June 2010, before Mancini revived his international career.
“Quagliarella deserved this call, because he is the Capocannoniere (top scorer) in Serie A this season,” said the Italy coach.
“I want to thank my teammates,” continued Quagliarella.
“After the two goals they encouraged me to get a third one too, but it didn’t happen.
“I thank Jorginho and (Leonardo) Bonucci because they’re the penalty takers and they told me to kick.
“They said: ‘The evening is yours, you kick it’.”
Stefano Sensi had headed Italy in front after 17 minutes with Marco Verratti adding a second after 32 minutes.
Kean nodded in his second Italy goal on 69 minutes with substitute Leonardo Pavoletti, 30, who got his first Italy start in the second half to replace Quagliarella, adding a sixth.
“After failing to qualify for the World Cup we wanted to bring enthusiasm back to the group and to the fans,” said Verratti.
– ‘Mission accomplished’ –
Quagliarella and Sensi started up front with Juventus forward Kean in a three-man attack.
The veteran striker was denied early before Leonardo Spinazzola set up Sensi to head in for his first senior Italy goal after 17 minutes.
Verratti broke through to curl in the second after 32 minutes for his second goal in the Azzurri jersey.
Italy were awarded a penalty for a Nicolas Hasler handball and Quagliarella made no mistake.
A searing Kean effort clipped the bar before Liechtenstein’s Daniel Kaufmann was sent off for handling a Verratti clearance with Quagliarella taking the second penalty on 43 minutes.
Pavoletti got his senior Azzurri debut and Quagliarella received a standing ovation as he left the Stadio Tardini pitch.
“This standing ovation is a memory I will always cherish,” said Quagliarella.
“I also thank Mancini who gave me this opportunity.”
Four minutes later the Cagliari forward completed the rout off a rebound as Italy — European champions in 1968 and runners-up in 2000 and 2012 — kept their unbeaten run in qualifiers going back nearly 13 years.
“Mission accomplished,” said Mancini.
“The result was obvious, but it was important that we score goals.”
Italy next play Greece and Bosnia in June.
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