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Monday September 4 2017
Italy's new focus

With hopes of automatic qualification all but gone, the Azzurri focus shifts to the World Cup play-off, writes Nick Valerio.

As Italy’s quite remarkable 11-year unbeaten qualification run ended abruptly at the hands of Spain, a nation so accustomed to reaching every major tournament with consummate ease must accept it won’t be a foregone conclusion this time around.

Morale is understandably low and, while the main objective has slipped away, Giampiero Ventura’s men only need a maximum of six points to ensure second spot in the standings, and this is the realistic aim now.

Ventura’s wounded troops can use the remaining three fixtures to their advantage, though. While it’s commonly known the veteran tactician’s formation of choice is 4-2-4, the final match-ups will allow the chance to experiment and throw caution to the wind.

The four-time world champions will be without first choice pairing Giorgio Chiellini and the suspended Leonardo Bonucci for Tuesday’s tie with Israel, and this should be a welcome opportunity for Daniele Rugani to stake a claim.

While Chiellini’s absence against La Roja was massively felt, Italy cannot rely solely on the former Juventus team-mates and both men, as imperious as they have been, need support.

At 23 years old, Rugani might not have the experience to match his peers, but does have the ability, and introducing the talented defender ought to be the natural choice to partner Andrea Barzagli at the heart of the backline.

The marauding Andrea Conti has also earned the opportunity to start and would offer a different dimension at right-back. Matteo Darmian is an honest professional, but is not the same player who was a constant threat on the flank for Torino. Expect new Milan man Conti to make the position his own this season, provided Ventura is willing to freshen things up.  

Further forward, Italy should move away from the set-up they’ve adopted in qualifying so far. Daniele De Rossi and Marco Verratti were on a hiding to nothing against the three of Koke, Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta. The midfield pairing was outnumbered and outclassed and certainly not helped by their Coach.

The emphatic way Spain took apart their opponents resembled the most recent Champions League Final. Although the formations may have been different, the outcome was eerily similar, as Sami Khedira and Miralem Pjanic suffered being a man short in their midfield battle with Real Madrid and the experience of Riccardo Montolivo would be have been a sensible option at the Bernabeu.

Of course, if the Azzurri move to a 4-3-3 formation, this would see either Andrea Belotti or Ciro Immobile miss out, a choice Ventura may not be willing to make. The Italy boss is a loyal man, but can’t afford to be sentimental in his quest to reach the 2018 showpiece in Russia.

In a campaign which absurdly saw two of the last three World Cup winners drawn in the same group, Ventura deserves applause for advocating youth and ushering in a new era of emerging talents.

Now, though, is the time for the Italian to prove he remains the right man for the job.

Keep up to date with the latest news and action from Spain's Primera Division with Football Espana - from the team behind Football Italia.

Have your say...
I was at this match after spending a week in Venice. The crowd was mad at them for the loss in Spain, and Ventura was not very popular. The squad was jeered during warm ups,and early on in the match. Then watching them do nothing but play wide balls was making the fans present even more angry. No creativity, aside from when players like Insigne were on the ball. He's a real delight to watch in person. Also, they need to start leaving De Rossi, and montolivo at home.
on the 8th September, 2017 at 5:31pm
4-2-4 is flat and predictable. italy should play a 4-5-1 or 3-5-2. Immobile and Belotti should NOT play together in a 2 man system. I would like to see Insigne play closer to belotti in a 2 man. 4-5-1
Buffon, Conti/Zappa, Bonucci/Rugani, Chiellini/Caldara/Romagnoli, Spinaz/Bareca, Bernadeschi/Berardi,Verrati/Baselli, De Rossi/JOrginho, Marchisio/Galgiardini, Insigne/Chiesa, Belotti/Immobile
OUT with the OLD and in with the NEW. No more Candreva, MOntolivo, Parolo, Barzagli, Astori.
on the 5th September, 2017 at 6:01pm
Moreover we have way more quality and talent at our disposal than Spain and can match any team. Belotti, Balotelli, Insigne, Berardi, Verratti, Marchisio, Jorginho, De Rossi, Buffon/Donnarumma and the bright future stars such as Chiesa, Diawara (Pending) and Kean to name a few. Terrible management and tactical nous mixed with god awful squad selections and playing our stars out of their natural positions is the reason for Italy's mediocre at best results. Mancini or Ancelotti for the job!
on the 5th September, 2017 at 4:00pm
@TOTO couldn't agree more! Albertini, Baggio and Maldini are great choices for this. Also I would love to see Mancini get the job… He'd get Balotelli back in and smashing games for us. Sick of saying this. Where are the players who on merit should be there. Balotelli and Jorghino being 2 such great players. Where are they? Diawara, Chiesa, Kean and Berardi will be sensational future stars too. Get them in sooner than later I say!
on the 5th September, 2017 at 12:56pm
Spaletti '“Ventura? I’d have made the same choices. That was the way to win'

Even on defeat ...... 'That was the way to Win'

There was a time Italy Lead or were the best at what they did. Now its a nation of backwards. Eagerly awaiting a footballing Renaissance.
on the 5th September, 2017 at 8:51am
...... Ventura was doing okay but suddenly his eye lit up before the Spain match - that I will show the world using this match as a platform what Ventura is capable of and where all I can Venture where no former CT of Italy dared venture !!! Poor players were used as pawns in trying to fulfill his ego. Had he tried 424 for the last 10-15 minutes of the match if the scores were even it could be understood but shocker was continuing with it when it was failing badly.
on the 4th September, 2017 at 11:41pm
Oh okay @Tommaso.
Stubborn coaches wid huge egos more focussed on themselves, their way instead of on what will suit players & apt for the opposition your facing will only keep bringing team down from where it'll be difficult to recover. Prandelli was doing well then after gettin one big lesson in euro final again after Italy qualified for WC suddenly started flying high & talked about wanting to use 7 different formations for 7 matches in the upcoming WC !!! contd.
on the 4th September, 2017 at 11:29pm
The Playoffs are not so simple either. See link below, as Italy is currently positioned 7 due to omitting the result vs the bottom ranked team in each group.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2018_FIFA_World_Cup_qualification_(UEFA)#Ranking_of_second-placed_teams

We need a revolution in Italy - led by Albertini, Baggio, Maldini - Soccer Legends not puppet politicians at the FIGC that are inept alongside our stupid coach.

This 4-2-4 is not in our skill set. Time for tradition over pride Venutra
on the 4th September, 2017 at 10:07pm
Should we qualify and play well this will mean nothing until we do it against the top sides in the world cup.Only then will we know if the Spain result was a one off and infact we are a top side.
on the 4th September, 2017 at 8:55pm
Ventura wants to continue the 4-2-4 against Israel? The depth of stupidity continues to grow. To what depths will Italy arrive at? And the purpose to continue this 4-2-4? Because Israel will certainly be a main contender in the WC and the perennial favorites from Europe and South Amer will not. Yes, let Italy continue to grow for the future with this formation because as we saw with Spain it was quite effective. Are Italians sleeping? Is anyone home at the FIGC?
on the 4th September, 2017 at 8:41pm
@Roy. We will be seeded for the play offs so can't draw a team like France or Portugal if they themselves finish 2nd.
Sweden look the team to avoid of all the potential opponents we could get.
on the 4th September, 2017 at 6:44pm
While playing teams like Rep. Of Ireland, Sweden, Slovakia in the playoffs is going to be very tough.... hope Italy don't end up drawing France if they slip up or the Netherlands !!!
on the 4th September, 2017 at 5:09pm
@Dami vero! Jorginho must be call when friendly in June. Marchisio injury too much. De Rossi can play in centro camp if with Jorginho or Marchisio to his side, even D'Ambrosio. If no strong player, De Rossi not to play. Verratti need strong player in his side, like Pirlo had. I try tell my brother Gian Piero but he no listen. Please everyone, write FIGC to fire this man and to give Ancelotti millions of dollars and unlimited contract to teach this team. Carlo can be also coach of the club team.
on the 4th September, 2017 at 4:59pm
The France, the Spain and the Tedesco players no so much better, just better to use of this players in the clubs of their calcio. In Serie A, too many of the foreign players in the clubs from the bottom to top. Why not Berardi already at Roma, Milan or Juve? This is a talent and this talent need to be use in the big clubs already. This is mentality problem in Italy, to buy more players of other countries and not use own. Use of own players is only way to get players in best shape for country.
on the 4th September, 2017 at 4:52pm
Raiola might be a difficult guy but he is speaks the truth and today he pointed out that the Italian coaches mindset need to be changed because they are old school because with the players Italy have at their disposal the likes of insigne verratti berrardi bernardeschi giovinco would have had fun playing for the likes of Spain Germany or Brazil and would each probably have had 20 odds caps or more by now and wouldn't have be treated like kids or Starlets at age of 20 odd something
on the 4th September, 2017 at 2:54pm
Am a Nigerian but also an Azzuri by virtue of my being a Milan fan and it hurts like a knife in my heart to see my dear Azzuri lose again to spain cos we've got talents in abundance; At the very least as much as spain has got.
I always look forward to these games against spain n thought we were ready this time to put up a great show even in their backyard but ended up dissapointed

This one is on Ventura
on the 4th September, 2017 at 1:49pm
Our managers constantly having sentimentality and loyalty to players needs to stop. Barzagli shouldn't be an automatic starter. Romagnoli or Caldar deserves that place now and they need integrating as they're our future. De Rossi shouldn't be and auto-starter when we have Jorginho, Verratti and Marchisio who are all better right now. I also love Buffon and he is a legend but Donnarumma needs integrating and should play in most friendlies and qualy matches. As after the WC he will be our #1.
on the 4th September, 2017 at 12:59pm
Then there's Berardi, Bernadeschi, Chiesa, Gagliardini, Locatelli, Cutrone, Kean, Caldara, Calabria, Pellegrini, Murgia and many others all coming through.

We have a quality squad and some quality looking youth prospects so stop complaining about our players all the time. Its always the same old 'Serie A isn't good enough'. I bet these are the same people who wrote off Conte before Euro 2016.

424 doesn't suit our strengths or best players that's the problem. Fix that and we start winning.
on the 4th September, 2017 at 12:52pm
Here comes the same old rubbish about playing Italians in Serie A and that we're not good enough. We have World Class players.

Buffon and Donna are 2 of the top GKs.

Chiellini and Bonucci 2 WC CBs.

Romag and Rugani are top CB prospects.

Conti, Zappacosta and Spinazzola are all coming off top seasons as FBs.

Verratti, Marchisio, Jorginho are top MDFs.

Diawara is a top prospect if we can get him.

Insigne is near WC now.

Belotti is going to be a WC striker after this season.
on the 4th September, 2017 at 12:47pm
Ive decided that Raiola is probarbly the person I hate most within the Football industry. I have never ever read anything true not correct from that man.

Today I read that Balotelli is Italy's best striker. This man is Utterly delusional.
on the 4th September, 2017 at 12:42pm
The focus should be on keeping our fingers crossed that we don't get team in the play-off that actually know how to play football.
Then the focus needs to switch quickly to Serie A... Overhaul get rid of all the average foreigners in the league and play Italian youngsters that doesn't mean give all the foreigners Italian passports it means taking control of the numbers, 10 year plan should start NOW! 5 years of plain for a long term gain.
on the 4th September, 2017 at 11:47am
@Dennis, agreed! We seem to be producing players that show a few glimpses of talent & then almost everyone gets carried away, hyping them up to extremes. Berardi, Bernardeschi & others tend to be anonymous in many games and lack the balls to take the game by the scruff of the neck. I do rate Belotti, Insigne, Verratti, Jorginho. I'm on the fence about the rest of our 'talents'. I need to see much greater consistency from them before I allow myself to get excited.
on the 4th September, 2017 at 11:21am
Whilst we don't have the embarrassment of riches like Germany, Spain, France: we still have some very good players who are being made to look bad because of some very questionable coaching decisions. I'm certain that Insigne, Verratti, Candreva etc would perform much better in a 433, playing in the same positions and given similar instructions to what they're given at club level. If not that, then a 352 with Insigne given a free role just behind Belotti.
on the 4th September, 2017 at 11:09am
We have no one to blame but ourselves when it came to being placed in the same group as Spain. Had we not been so abysmal in the last two World Cups & friendly fixtures, our ranking would have been higher & our chances of playing the likes of Spain lower. It's a similar case with us losing the 4th CL spot. We knew the rules going into this & should stop making pathetic excuses. Oh & a newsflash, nearly every nation will have unfit players at this time of the year, not just us.
on the 4th September, 2017 at 10:55am
This is formation I send for my brother

three defensors. It not matters which three but for Israel

Barzagli
Astori
Rugani

centrocampisti

Conti
Verratti
De Rossi
D'Ambrosio

attaccanti

Candreva
Belotti
Insigne
on the 4th September, 2017 at 10:33am
Israel 2 : Italy 1
the disaster with Ventura continues!
Aftermath: Fans to climb over FIGC & insert a stick up on Taveccio's ASS! Serie-A to witness the poorest football season ever! Chaios all over!
on the 4th September, 2017 at 10:22am
Oh dear Montolivio would have aided Italy against Spain. Everybody seems to know how to make Italy great apart from the managers. Some are suggesting play youth as if the side that played against was ancient. The so called great young talents have not exactly set the world on fire but that is never important. What is important is how some ppl view these players. Berardi eg is still at Sassuolo while some view him as the 2nd coming. Italy have some very good players but nowhere as what some make
on the 4th September, 2017 at 9:48am
Cutrone lol - they have played 6 games vs semi pro opposition.
The problem was the formation, Ventura should have applied the 3-5-2 to stop Spain's midfield. Prandelli did it in game 1 of the 2012 Euro's and it was successful, and then made the same mistake in the final. Conte played it last year and won easily. It was the fault of the coach, plain and simple
on the 4th September, 2017 at 9:37am
For now, all chips are on the table and this much has to be done. Either Insigne plays and Italy field attacking wingers, or stick to fielding 2 strikers and either wingbacks for 352 or at least wingers and fullbacks that can defend. I think it's inadvisable to field both Belotti and Immobile the way they are, it has to be strikers that compliment each other not overlap. Perhaps Eder or as some suggested Giovinco for 2nd strikers, but Insigne is the best option available. Never 424 again.
on the 4th September, 2017 at 8:22am
That's what you get when you hire someone like Ventura. He's not qualified for the job despite his experience.

Quite funny considering there where a writer on this site - a Romanista that I can't remember the name of - who was actually looking forward to the post-Conte era (this was of course before the Euros).

You don't know what you got till it's gone and all of that.
on the 4th September, 2017 at 8:20am

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