MILAN, Italy — There are two potential narratives as Italy put together for his or her World Cup date with future in opposition to Sweden in Milan on Monday.
The primary, and essentially the most unpalatable, is that the four-time world champions fail to qualify for Russia 2018 and a curtain falls on the worldwide careers of half the workforce, together with Daniele De Rossi, Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and the icon that’s Gianluigi Buffon.
The second potential storyline is that the Azzurri overturn Friday’s 1-Zero first-leg defeat in Stockholm, with a brand new hero rising to haul Gian Piero Ventura’s facet to the World Cup and keep away from the humiliation of lacking out on the event for the primary time since 1958.
Italy’s saviour won’t be Marco Verratti, after the Paris Saint-Germain playmaker picked up a yellow card in Sweden that guidelines him out of the return leg. Maybe Lorenzo Insigne will step ahead, or possibly will probably be Torino’s Andrea Belotti, who turns into the face of the brand new era.
However whomever the Italians depend on to encourage them to the victory they want on the San Siro, it can’t be the outdated heads who make the distinction this time. What’s wanted is youthful exuberance and audacity, attacking verve fairly than defensive group.
Nevertheless, latest outcomes counsel they could not have what it takes to beat an athletic and sturdy Sweden workforce. Previous to Friday’s loss, Italy scored simply thrice of their earlier 4 qualifiers, certainly one of which was a Three-Zero thrashing in Spain that successfully ended their hopes of computerized qualification.
The explanation Italy are on this predicament is as a result of the wave of latest expertise has not been ok to scrub away the outdated guard. The nation is determined for the baton to be handed, and there’s no time like the current for Belotti, Insigne & Co. to show they’re worthy of main the Italians into a brand new period.
No nation has gained extra European Below-21 Championships than Italy’s 5, which is yet one more than Spain, but the final of these triumphs got here in 2004 — De Rossi and Barzagli had been central figures — and the next decline at that age-group degree has coincided with a slowing manufacturing line of expertise into the senior workforce.
It’s why seven gamers in Italy’s beginning line-up in opposition to Sweden had been 30 or older; Buffon (39), Barzagli (36) and De Rossi (34) are all survivors from the 2006 World Cup-winning squad. Ventura, who turns 70 in January, has accomplished little to inject the power of youthful gamers into his workforce, with the coach shocking many by omitting Roma’s in-form Stephan El Shaarawy.
Forward of the second leg, Ventura promised he would “change one thing,” however whereas most of the issues are of his personal making, the veteran coach can’t be blamed for a scarcity of rising expertise.
There isn’t a new Roberto Baggio, Alessandro Del Piero or Andrea Pirlo ready to take the world by storm, simply as there isn’t a new Gianfranco Zola, Francesco Totti or Gianluca Vialli on the market. As for Mario Balotelli, Italy seems to have given up on the maverick Good ahead.
Belotti is arguably the best-placed to turn out to be Italy’s new hero, however he has misplaced sharpness after being sidelined for 3 weeks with a knee damage final month, and the Sweden tie has maybe come too quickly for him.
The 23-year-old has hit 4 objectives in 12 appearances for Italy, however three of these have come in opposition to Liechtenstein and the opposite was vs. Macedonia, so he has but to show he can ship on the worldwide stage in opposition to the most effective.
Sweden don’t fall into that class, however they’re a substantial step up. So if he’s match sufficient to play two video games in 4 days, Belotti has the right alternative to dispel any doubts over his top-level skill.
However he missed Italy’s finest probability within the first leg when he headed vast from shut vary, so maybe he’ll fall quick as a result of he merely is not nearly as good as these gamers who went earlier than him.
The identical applies to Italy. As profitable as they’ve been up to now, there aren’t any free passes to a World Cup, and time could run out on Ventura and his gamers in Milan on Monday evening.
Mark Ogden is a senior soccer author for ESPN FC. Comply with him @MarkOgden_