Roberto Mancini believes an improving Italy is ready to compete with the continent's top teams after sealing a place at Euro 2020.
Jorginho and Federico Bernardeschi scored in a 2-0 victory over Greece in Rome on Saturday to confirm the Azzurri's qualification from Group J. Euro 2020 will mark the nation's first appearance at a major tournament in four years following the shock failure to reach the World Cup in Russia.
Mancini took charge in the aftermath of that debacle and has guided a refreshed side to an eight-match winning streak, one short of the Italy record achieved under Vittorio Pozzo in the 1930s.
"We created a team in a short time and it wasn't that easy," Mancini said.
'A group that fights'
"Much of the credit must be given to the players. I tried to make them believe in their qualities at a time when many said there were no players with quality. I just needed a little patience. There is no absolute star, but there is a group that fights, that plays good football and that must improve.
"We haven't won anything, but we have qualified with three games to play. We must be very happy considering what our starting point was. I don't think there's a big gap to the big European teams."
Though his team held the host goalless for over an hour at Stadio Olimpico, Greece boss John van't Schip agreed with Mancini's assessment of Italy as a potential contender at next year's tournament. "They have overcome the crisis they went through two years ago," he said.
"Italy can be a very dangerous outsider for the Euros or maybe even one of the favourites."