A draw. With Macedonia. At home. If ever a result summed up Italy during Giampiero Ventura’s tenure, it was this: the Azzurri held to a disappointing 1-1 stalemate by a team they should have brushed aside comfortably. The performance was every bit as uninspiring as the final score would indicate, and the 69-year-old can expect to be completely lambasted by the national and international media alike in the coming days.
Of course, there were mitigating circumstances, most notably an injury list which included midfielders Claudio Marchisio, Daniele De Rossi, Marco Verratti and Lorenzo Pellegrini, not to mention first choice striker Andrea Belotti. Yet, at the risk of it being understated, this was a match Italy could – and most definitely should – still have won.
Those who did take to the field must also accept their share of criticism. Giorgio Chiellini scored one goal and prevented an almost certain equaliser in the opening 45 minutes, but it was the Juventus man’s initial failure to intervene that allowed Palermo winger Aleksandar Trajkovski to find the back of the net. Alongside him, Leonardo Bonucci carried his poor domestic form with him in another error-strewn display, nowhere near the imperious and unbeatable stopper he was until recently.
Yet the one most culpable is unquestionably Ventura. The same man who lined up the Azzurri in a suicidal 4-2-4 formation in Spain last month inexplicably opted to field seven defence-minded players against a team who sat second-bottom of Group G. It's an approach no winner coupon code could predict.
For all the talk of a tactical shift, Italy still looked devoid of ideas or attacking impetus, instead showcasing just how limited a side the Coach had selected. This was a game that cried out for names such as Federico Chiesa, Domenico Berardi or Alessandro Florenzi - energetic, inventive players who could run roughshod over a weaker opponent. Federico Bernardeschi was given less than half an hour to make an impression, while the bench was filled with the likes of Eder and Manolo Gabbiadini.
Meanwhile, Jorginho – who is once again averaging more passes per game than any other player in Europe – instead sat at home watching on TV, as Marco Parolo and Roberto Gagliardini featured in midfield. Even the in-form talents who did receive a call-up were left kicking their heels, Leonardo Spinazzola and Nicolò Barella remaining unused substitutes as the clock wound down.
There have been plenty of warnings, the Azzurri looking disjointed and unsure in almost every match under Ventura’s leadership, but he has remained paralysed by fear, looking more and more out of his depth as qualifying wore on until this most unacceptable of results.
Shortly after the final whistle he bemoaned a “lack of fitness levels” among his players, a startling excuse for a display undoubtedly affected by the squad and team he and he alone selected. Ventura cannot complain that players aren’t getting regular time at their clubs when ignoring those in better form. Those same men will return to Napoli, Juventus, Milan and elsewhere next week, starring in Champions League and Serie A action alike.
Make no mistake, if anyone looked unfit to fulfil their duties on Friday evening it was Giampiero Ventura, the Commissario Tecnico failing to inspire, improve or organise the Azzurri once again.