On a night where Italy predictably toiled against resolute opposition, it was one of the side’s senior men who stood up and proved the difference. The four-time World Cup winners have Antonio Candreva to thank for securing top seed status and avoiding a potential play-off against Denmark and European champions Portugal, if the Euro 2016 victors topple Switzerland.
The three points also earned some much-needed respite for under-fire tactician Giampiero Ventura, but there will be no hiding for the veteran if he fails to guide the Azzurri to Russia next year.
Truthfully, the outlook looks bleak for Ventura. His men look bereft of confidence and have not recovered from the fatal night in Madrid where Spain ruthlessly exposed his squad. A campaign which started so promisingly has ended in uninspiring fashion and the manner in which Italy stumbled to the three points against Albania was emblematic of the current problems in the camp.
The performance was ever so slightly better than the 1-1 draw against Macedonia which earned widespread, and justified, ridicule from all corners of the mainstream Press and public, but this is an inherent problem for the Azzurri who regularly go through the motions in qualifying, but have always found a way to ultimately reach their objective.
This time around, the warning signs have been there for some time. Italy need to raise their level considerably, or risk watching next summer’s showpiece at home and endure the shame of a nation.
Decisions have to be made and the spotlight remains firmly on Ventura. This will only intensify further over the next month as Italy’s destiny unfolds.
The former Torino boss did not get the reaction he was hoping for against The Eagles and it’s particularly damning for the avid calcio viewer when the match plays out as expected. Italy lack imagination and spark in midfield, and while Marco Parolo is a reliable figure, the Lazio regular should not be in the starting line-up.
Serie A pass master Jorginho continues to be inexplicably overlooked and Ventura has offered no reasonable insight as to why the Napoli star, who is in the form of his life, fails to make the cut at a time when Marco Verratti suffers from constant injury. The playmaker would breathe new life in to an insipid Italy team lacking in purpose and creativity.
Above all, the sheer stubbornness to persevere with the 4-2-4 formation, which once again failed to showcase the best of Lorenzo Insigne’s ability, continues to dumbfound the watching public. The system is not working and should have been consigned to the scrapheap after the drubbing at the hands of La Roja.
There were no real standouts from the final qualification match and this should be a cause for concern for the Azzurri boss. As the play-off showdown looms, no player made a real impression and staked their claim for a spot. Collectively, Italy were lacklustre and it took nearly half an hour on the clock to create an opening of note. In truth, bar a late flurry, Albania more than held their own and stifled an out of sorts Azzurri for most of the encounter.
Expectations may be plummeting, but Italy are the masters when their backs are against the wall and it’s up to Ventura to show he can adapt and change before it’s too late.