2018 FIFA World Cup: Where it all went wrong for Italy

For the first time in almost six decades, the Italian flag won’t be flown at the FIFA World Cup. Four-time champions, Italy, failed in their bid to qualify for Russia following a 1-0 aggregate defeat to Sweden. The Azzurri couldn’t overturn a one-goal deficit on Monday night at the San Siro in Milan. We take a look at what went wrong for Gian Piero Ventura and his troops.

It all began in June 2015 when Italy was handed a tough draw alongside powerhouse Spain in Group G.  The Azzurri were made to pay for poor results in friendlies which annihilated their FIFA ranking, making them open to the prospect of drawing another top nation in the draw despite having excellent recent tournament records, topping qualifying groups in recent years, while making the Euro 2012 final.

Countries like Austria, Slovakia, Wales and Romania were ranked ahead of the Azzurri at the qualifying draw after the Italians only won five of 21 friendlies during the period. They lost to USA and Russia, and drew, most weirdly, with Haiti. Instead of copping a routine path to Russia, ultimately, they were punished by the mechanics of the system for their attitude in those games by being pitted against Spain.

Nonetheless, Ventura’s team were expected to still grill at least one victory over their main rivals at home. Knowing the other teams in the group; Israel, Albania, Liechtenstein and Macedonia was never going to trouble them. But startlingly, the Azzurri managed a 1-1 stalemate and lost on the road. Italy was thrashed 3-0 with Isco running riot. And that was it.

Yet, none other but Ventura deserves the biggest stick for his county’s debacle. The 69-year-old’s tactics were heavily criticized throughout the series – never more glaring than against Sweden in the play-off. For reasons best known to the tactician, Italy’s brightest forward this season, Lorenzo Insigne, was left on the bench over both legs. And when he opted to throw the 26-year-old into the fray, it was in an unfamiliar central midfield role. Insigne had been involved in eight goals for Napoli thus far. No wonder the Azzurri struggled to hit the target. Take out nine goals scored against Liechtenstein, they mustered just 12 in World Cup qualifying, with none against Sweden a drought of three in their last five.

Now that’s not all. Ventura’s affiliation for veterans clearly erupted. There were seven starting players aged 30 or more for the first leg in Stockholm; four of them 33 or older. In defence, the veteran “BBC” trio of Andrea Barzagli, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci – has a combined age of 99. While it isn’t out of place for the manager to have trusted his experience bunch, there was an obvious imbalance between veterans and players not quite ready. Ventura’s attachment to two forwards he coached at Torino, Ciro Immobile and Andrea Belotti, and his refusal to try a three-striker formation apparently did cost him.

Yet, the 69-year-old journeyman manager says he is staying put.  “I’m not resigning because I haven’t spoken with the (federation) president. We need to evaluate things. We’ll see. I’ll talk with the federation and confront the problem. “I feel I have to apologize to Italians for the result.”

About the Author Toby

An unrepentant soccer freak other freaks call geek.

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