ITALY booked their place in the knockout stages with a commanding 3-0 victory over Switzerland with the sort of assured performance that will only underline their status as serious contenders to go all the way and lift the Henri Delaunay Trophy next month.

Of all the teams at the Euros, few have displayed the sort of clarity of purpose that emanates from Roberto Mancini’s men. The way those famous blue shirts shuttle around the park in concert is the sort of discipline more closely associated with the club game, and it was this unity that sealed another comfortable victory for the Azzurri.

Switzerland have historically been a conservative side when appearing at major tournaments and that tradition was upheld in Rome. Vladimir Petkovic opted for a back five and his team’s overall shape was deep, narrow and condensed as he attempted to engineer a war of attrition.

Instead, that reluctance to gamble simply invited pressure from their opponents. The Italians played high up the park and controlled possession, and there was always a sense that their breakthrough was imminent. It looked like they had found it on 20 minutes when Giorgio Chiellini hacked in Nicola Barella’s corner after it fell to his feet a few yards out, but VAR correctly chalked the goal off for a handball from the centre-half in the build-up.

A few minutes later the veteran defender’s night was brought to a close as he hobbled off with a hamstring injury but Chiellini’s reaction to the bench would suggest it is nothing serious.

If the sight of the defensive stalwart trudging off the park led to a sharp inhalation of breath from the stands in Rome, they were soon exhaling in relaxation as Manuel Locatelli gave the hosts a deserved lead. The playmaker’s sublime cross-field ball sent his Sassuolo team-mate Domenico Berardi scarpering down the touchline and by the time the winger reached the box and cut the ball across the face of goal, Locatelli had burst into the box and stabbed it home with a simple finish.

That intervention signalled a change in approach from Italy. Now the team dropped deep inside their own half, daring the Swiss to press forward in search of an equaliser. The Italian defenders would patiently knock the ball around the back, waiting for the right moment to spring their trap before releasing Berardi or Lorenzo Insigne on either flank. Add to that the attacking talents of Leonardo Spinazzola – the right-footed Roma left-back who is no stranger to bombing down the flank at the Stadio Olimpico – and their threat on the breakaway was obvious.

The tactical tweak proved effective. The Swiss can be toothless going forward at the best of times, never mind when running up against a defence that hadn’t shipped a single goal in their previous eight outings. They chased after and harried their opposite numbers, desperate to force an error at the back, yet the home players were invariably composed in possession.

The home side were comfortable and shortly after the restart, their lead became virtually unassailable. Berardi charged down the right and picked his moment to side the ball across to Locatelli on the edge of the area, with the midfielder allowing himself a touch to control before he rifled the ball in at the far post past the statuesque Yann Sommer.

Lazio striker Ciro Immobile added the cherry on top as he drilled in a third from the edge of the area on the cusp of stoppage time to seal an emphatic victory for the Azzurri.