Is a new dawn for Italian football just around the corner?
Remember Italy when they had a really good team? Always drawn in England’s European Championship and World Cup qualifying groups. Always hard to beat.
Names like Alessandro Del Piero, Filippo Inzaghi, Christian Vieri, Enrico Chiesa, Roberto Di Matteo all in their pomp. On paper, they should have won the 1998 World Cup, or at least been in the last four. As it was, the nation had to wait eight years, finally delivering in 2006 against the odds.
From there, Italian football went on a downward spiral. No longer did that great AC Milan team dominate Europe. Serie A was cast into a murky shadow, with allegations of match fixing, bribes and backhanders, as politics bubbled to the surface.
Eight years on and the nation’s footballing future looks more positive. In a similar situation to England, the Italian national team is in a period of transition. The ‘old guard’ have more or less retired. Only their evergreen goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon remains. He was at the 1998 World Cup as a fresh-faced 20-year-old.
With Cesare Prandelli having moved on, who experimented with a number of systems utilising young personnel, ex-Juventus manager Antonio Conte who won three Serie A titles, has taken over the reigns.
Already, he hasn’t been afraid to make changes. Arguably their biggest name, Mario Balotelli, has been omitted from the latest squad, after struggling to acclimatise to life at new club Liverpool. In Ciro Immobile and Mattia Destro, they have two very good, young strikers who have the potential to be world class. Graziano Pelle’s inclusion is well deserved, after scoring five goals in eight matches since his summer switch from Feyenoord to Southampton.
Simone Zaza of Sassuolo, has also showed glimmers of how good he could be and, at the age of 23, can be the future of the Italy team. All of a sudden, Azzurri have plenty of options in attack, just like circa ’98.
Further back, the loss of Andrea Pirlo’s majesty could give rise to PSG talent Marco Veratti, who has displayed that he could eventually have the same impact as their former midfield general, with the elder statesman not included in the current squad.
The rise to prominence of widemen Matteo Darmian and Antonia Candreva give Italy another dimension and more of a threat going forward. With Pelle in a striking berth alongside one of Destro or Immobile, wingers now have someone to aim for again in the penalty area, who appears to be in a similar mould to Vieri and, although aged 29, could thrive at Euro 2016, with Italy 12/1 to win the tournament.