There’s still life left in Italy despite Antonio Conte comments


Italy, 12/1 chances with Coral to lift Euro 2016, needed an own goal to win an end of calendar year friendly against Albania, prompting national coach Antonio Conte to launch a scathing attack on younger players breaking into the set-up.

Former Juventus captain and boss Conte succeeded Cesare Prandelli, who fell on his sword following the Azzurri’s dismal World Cup campaign, but has bemoaned new inclusions that “don’t have the right attitude”.

“We’re going through a difficult generational change,” he said. “You do not want to face up to certain things, that is the big problem. Our product is dying out. We now struggle to churn out talent.”

Goalie and captain Gianluigi Buffon, who made a high-profile error that cost Italy two points in their last Euro 2016 qualifier against Croatia; holding midfielder Daniele De Rossi and playmaker Andrea Pirlo are the last vestiges of the Azzurri old guard. They and they alone have tasted tournament success from Conte’s current choices, playing pivotal roles in winning the 2006 World Cup under Marcello Lippi.

In calling into question Italy’s future, Conte has rather made a rod for his own back in selecting a second-string squad for the Albania game. The Azzurri’s Under-21s qualified for their second successive European Championship finals at that level, despite choicer cuts already elevated into the senior set-up.

Conte was also hampered by a number of injuries throughout his spine ahead of and during the international break. Italy were without Pirlo and prodigious understudy Marco Verratti from midfield, with Mario Balotelli and Angelo Ogbonna also missing from opposite ends of the pitch.

The Azzurri are also enduring a number of long-term absentees, like centre half Andrea Barzagli, wing back Christian Maggio, midfielder Riccardo Montolivo and frontman Giuseppe Rossi. You might argue, however, as some of these names are 30 and over that they should be replaced.

Age is not an issue for Conte, though. He gave defender Emiliano Moretti, who surely played his best football at Valencia in his mid-20s, a senior international debut at 33 against Albania. Italy continue to ignore solving their problem position at left back by leaving out Zenit St Petersburg player Domenico Criscito.

He was on the bench last time out, but an unused substitute. Criscito was cleared of match-fixing allegations, but it seems the stigma remains. A small contingent of players eligible to play for the Under-21s at the European finals in the Czech Republic this summer should step down to pick up precious playing time at a tournament.

That would serve Verratti, AC Milan full back Mattia De Sciglio and attacker Stephan El Shaarawy, plus uncapped Empoli defender Daniele Rugani well. We cannot expect the same approach from Conte as adopted by predecessor Prandelli, though.

Incumbent coach Conte wants players that fit into his 3-5-2 formation, while there has previously been pragmatism both in terms of tactics and personnel. The search to achieve what this successful young manager feels will be a proper Azzurri blend goes on, with Italy odds-on 8/13 favourites to top their qualifying group en route to Euro 2016.

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