Italy in need of some fresh blood

WORLD CUP: Af­ter fail­ure to qual­ify, re­tir­ing vet­er­ans will need to be re­placed and so will coach Ven­tura

The Province - - SPORTS - AN­DREW DAMPF

ROME — Out with the old guard and in with the new.

Italy’s na­tional soc­cer team needs a se­ri­ous in­jec­tion of youth to re­cover from its fail­ure to qual­ify for the World Cup for the first time in six decades.

Goal­keeper Gian­luigi Buf­fon, de­fender An­drea Barza­gli and mid­fielder Daniele De Rossi — the three holdovers from the squad that won the coun­try’s fourth World Cup in 2006 — an­nounced they were re­tir­ing from the na­tional team in the af­ter­math of a 1-0 ag­gre­gate loss to Swe­den in a play­off.

Vet­eran de­fender Gior­gio Chiellini was also con­sid­er­ing re­tire­ment.

“We all need to take a step back to re­set the move­ment,” Chiellini said. “It’s the low­est point in modern times for Ital­ian soc­cer. We need to take ad­van­tage of this mo­ment to re­design a new squad.”

Italy coach Gian Piero Ven­tura is sure to go, and there are also calls for soc­cer fed­er­a­tion pres­i­dent Carlo Tavec­chio to step down. So who’s left for the Az­zurri? The eas­i­est an­swer to that ques­tion comes in goal, where 18-yearold AC Mi­lan starter Gian­luigi Don­narumma is set to re­place Buf­fon.

In de­fence, Leonardo Bonucci could be the only holdover from the “BBC” trio with Barza­gli and Chiellini. Younger de­fend­ers on the hori­zon in­clude Daniele Ru­gani, Alessio Ro­mag­noli and Mat­tia Cal­dara.

There is hope in mid­field, too. Although Marco Ver­ratti still hasn’t put in a solid per­for­mance as he at­tempts to re­place the re­tired An­drea Pirlo, a lot will be ex­pected of the Paris Saint-Ger­main player in the com­ing years.

Then there is Brazil­ian-born Jorginho, who was given his first com­pet­i­tive ac­tion for Italy in the sec­ond leg against Swe­den and showed that he can be a re­li­able op­tion in mid­field. Roberto Gagliar­dini, a phys­i­cal 23-year-old mid­fielder for In­ter Mi­lan, should also gain more play­ing time.

Up front, tal­ented wingers Lorenzo In­signe and Stephan El Shaarawy are ap­proach­ing their primes and cen­tre for­wards Ciro Im­mo­bile and An­drea Belotti are also in their early to mid-20s. At 27, the long-ex­cluded Mario Balotelli could still have plenty to con­trib­ute if he ever ma­tures enough.

Other play­ers to watch out for down the line are 20-year-old Fiorentina for­ward Fed­erico Chiesa — the son of for­mer Italy striker En­rico Chiesa — and 23-year-old Sas­suolo striker Domenico Ber­ardi. AC Mi­lan’s 23-year-old right back An­drea Conti and 21-year-old Roma mid­fielder Lorenzo Pel­le­grini are also po­ten­tial na­tional team play­ers.

The big­gest ques­tion, though, is who will re­place Ven­tura as coach.

Carlo Ancelotti, who was fired by Bay­ern Mu­nich in Septem­ber, is be­ing men­tioned as a pos­si­ble re­place­ment.

Ancelotti, who coached Ju­ven­tus and AC Mi­lan be­fore go­ing abroad to win ti­tles with Chelsea, Paris Saint-Ger­main, Real Madrid and Bay­ern, has the big-club re­sume that Ven­tura lacked. But it re­mains to be seen if Ancelotti will be will­ing to coach the na­tional team, or if he still prefers the daily ac­tiv­i­ties of a club.

Other op­tions in­clude in­stalling a care­taker and lur­ing back pre­vi­ous coach An­to­nio Conte, who has ex­pressed home­sick­ness at Chelsea.

Ven­tura is ex­pected to re­sign or be fired. Even though his con­tract was ex­tended to 2020, the deal in­cluded a stip­u­la­tion that it could be voided in case of a failed qual­i­fi­ca­tion.

Tavec­chio’s sta­tus was also put into ques­tion by Ital­ian Olympic Com­mit­tee pres­i­dent Gio­vanni Malago, who over­sees all sports in the coun­try.

“I spoke with Tavec­chio and I asked him what his in­ten­tions were and he told me that to­mor­row there will be this meet­ing in the fed­er­a­tion,” Malago said Tues­day. “As you know, it’s up to the boss to take re­spon­si­bil­ity, but if I were him I would re­sign.”

There is a prece­dent since both Gian­carlo Abete, the pre­vi­ous fed­er­a­tion pres­i­dent, and coach Ce­sare Pran­delli each re­signed im­me­di­ate- ly af­ter Italy was elim­i­nated in the first round of the 2014 World Cup.

Italy isn’t sched­uled to play again un­til high-pro­file friendlies against Ar­gentina and Eng­land in March.

The Az­zurri’s next of­fi­cial match won’t come un­til next Septem­ber when the new Na­tions League be­gins, while qual­i­fy­ing for the 2020 Eu­ro­pean Cham­pi­onship starts in March 2019.

“I don’t know if I’ll stay,” Chiellini said when asked if he might take over as cap­tain.

— GETTY IM­AGES FILES

Italy’s goal­keeper Gian­luigi Buf­fon re­tired af­ter fail­ing to qual­ify for the World Cup.

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