FIVE THINGS THAT EX­PLAIN ITALY’S WORLD CUP DIS­AS­TER

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - FOOTBALL -

MI­LAN: Italy is pick­ing through the wreck­age af­ter the na­tional team failed to qual­ify for the World Cup for the first time since 1958. Here are five things that led to the Az­zurri’s his­toric exit:

WRONG COACH

Gian Piero Ven­tura was given the Italy job in the wake of Euro 2016 af­ter five ex­cel­lent years at Torino, whom he took from Serie B in 2011 to the Europa League round of 16 in 2015. In 2014 he led the club to sev­enth in Serie A, their best league po­si­tion since 1992, and gave them their first win over hated lo­cal ri­vals Ju­ven­tus in two decades. Nonethe­less he was an unin­spir­ing re­place­ment for An­to­nio Conte, a three-time Serie A win­ner who dragged a rag-tag Italy to the quar­ter­fi­nals of Euro 2016. Ven­tura was a 68year-old who had never man­aged one of Serie A’s big hit­ters and had only the 1996 Serie C ti­tle in his tro­phy cab­i­net. Crit­ics sug­gested that a team that has four World Cups and two Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships to its name needed some­one with a big­ger rep­u­ta­tion and bet­ter record in the up­per ech­e­lons of the game.

IG­NOR­ING YOUNG TAL­ENT

Italy might not have play­ers of the same cal­iber as the 2006 World Cup team, but there is still plenty of tal­ent to pick from. The key prob­lem in this dis­as­trous cam­paign was that Ven­tura did not play or some­times even se­lect Italy’s top young tal­ent. Italy’s en­tire start­ing 11 Mon­day was over 25 and six were over 30, while young tal­ent like Ju­ven­tus’ Fed­erico Bernarde­schi, Ata­lanta de­fend­ers Leonardo Spinaz­zola and Mat­tia Cal­dara and Roma mid­fielder Lorenzo Pel­le­grini were barely any­where to be seen.

IN­COM­PE­TENCE AT THE TOP

Ital­ian foot­ball Fed­er­a­tion (FIGC) Pres­i­dent Carlo Tavec­chio is re­spon­si­ble for the hir­ing of Ven­tura and as such the blame for the ar­rival of the catas­tro­phe he warned of should rest on his shoul­ders. Ven­tura did not step down Mon­day and the FIGC is dither­ing on fir­ing him, with Tavec­chio an­nounc­ing he will de­cide his fate Wed­nes­day. That is an em­blem­atic fi­nal scene of a ten­ure that has at times re­sem­bled a slow-mo­tion car crash and ob­servers say it highlights the lack of lead­er­ship Tavec­chio of­fers to the Ital­ian game.

A COUN­TRY FOR OLD MEN

The 74-year-old Tavec­chio is a sym­bol of a geron­to­cratic Italy where age is of­ten val­ued more than youth. He hired Ven­tura, who will be 70 in Jan­uary, and Ven­tura stuck with the old guard, like De Rossi (34) and An­drea Barza­gli (36). Tavec­chio was elected pres­i­dent of the FIGC af­ter a land­slide vote in his fa­vor in 2014 that saw 18 of the 20 Serie A clubs back him against for­mer AC Mi­lan and Italy mid­fielder Demetrio Al­ber­tini. Tavec­chio won the vote de­spite it com­ing just weeks af­ter mak­ing racist slurs, re­fer­ring to black play­ers who “ate ba­nanas” be­fore they came to play in Italy.

LACK OF IDEN­TITY

Ven­tura’s in­ex­pe­ri­ence at the high­est level showed as the qual­i­fy­ing cam­paign un­folded, as he failed to find a set­tled team or tac­tics. The coach’s mis­han­dling of Jorginho and Lorenzo In­signe an­gered crit­ics, with the coach re­fus­ing to play an at­tack­ing tri­dent that would have got the best out of wing dy­namo In­signe with a mid­field three that would have mir­rored the sys­tem in which the pair shine at Napoli. In­stead Ven­tura flip-flopped be­tween for­ma­tions and ig­nored Jorginho for al­most two years be­fore throw­ing him into the fray Mon­day with Italy’s World Cup hopes hang­ing by a thread. Giv­ing In­signe 14 min­utes in mid­field in the first leg of the play­off in Solna and not play­ing him at all Mon­day in­fu­ri­ated fans and left Roma cap­tain Daniele De Rossi openly be­mused on the bench. –

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