Italy's World Cup failure summed up by Ventura's listless tactics

James Piercy 14/11/2017
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Down and out: Italy were beaten 1-0 on aggregate by Sweden.

Conforming to cliche, clean sheets have been a bedrock and calling card of Italian football for decades. But that bastion of strength became a footnote on a night where a bright, inventive attacking display was required, and they fell desperately short.

Gian Piero Ventura now carries the ignominy of being the first Italy coach to fail to lead the country to a World Cup since Alfredo Foni in 1958.

Ventura cannot be afforded any nostalgia, with the scoreline symbolic in signifying just what has gone wrong for him during a reign which, technically, could continue through to 2020.

Because, with a steadying veteran defensive presence readymade for his use, Ventura’s task post-Antonio Conte was discovering a potent attacking unit. But at no stage has the 69 year-old given any impression he knew what his best combination was.

Ciro Immobile, Andrea Belotti, Eder, Manolo Gabbiadini, Stephan El Shaarawy and Federico Bernardeschi have all been tried in various formations and iterations, but there have been precious sign of fluidity throughout qualifying.

Ventura had insisted Italy would play with a style and swagger so missing from their 1-0 defeat in Stockholm but, in truth, their performance was largely of chaos.

The Azzurri escaped two handball decisions both of which Sweden had a strong case for a penalty and only one referee Mateu Lahoz could argue he didn’t have a clear view. That experienced defenders were sticking arms out to intercept not one but two Swedish crosses did little to inspire great confidence in Ventura’s ability to instill any calm in his team.

Neither was the troubling sight of both Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli earning yellow cards inside the first 30 minutes.

The Juventus pair have 167 caps between them but were petulant and impatient in receiving their bookings for fouls in areas of the field where there was little present danger. This can be, in part, attributed to the tension and the sense of urgency required but control was needed in that area of the field.

Initially, there was a brightness to their play and in Jorginho a midfielder who sees passes where others would see yellow shirts. Ciro Immobile looked busy, in finding glimmers of space in behind Victor Lindelof and Andrea Granqvist but they were largely half-chances.

The Swedish defence were resolute, blocking, heading crosses and reacting with commitment.

This is not an Italian team of attacking superstars, they needed a system, or a semblance of one.

But it still took Ventura considerable time to change his approach from seeking width and/or allowing Jorginho to play quarterbackstyle deep passes into Immobile.

Which begs the question, why continue with a policy of excessive crossing and aerial passes against two towering centre-backs?

What Immobile did expose was the lack of pace in the Swedish defence, yet Lorenzo Insigne remained sat on the Italian bench.

El Shaarawy and Belotti were the nominated alternatives but the San Siro needed much more. Any air of optimism had been sucked out by tension and the reality of a Russia 2018 without them.

What Insigne has done to lose the trust of Ventura will be picked over for the days to come but even 15 minutes from his inevitable fate, the embattled coach was unable to make the right decision. Conforming to his own self-made cliche.

MILAN, ITALY - NOVEMBER 13: Gianluigi Buffon of Italy dejected at the end of the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Play-Off: Second Leg between Italy and Sweden at San Siro Stadium on November 13, 2017 in Milan, Sweden. (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)

Dejected: Gianluigi Buffon.

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Sergio Aguero's late strike sees Argentina trump Russia in Moscow

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A late goal from Sergio Aguero unlocked a stubborn Russian defence as Argentina showed their intent ahead of next year’s World Cup with a 1-0 win over the tournament hosts on Saturday.

The goal by the Manchester City forward set the South Americans on their way to a well-deserved win at Moscow’s renovated 81,000-capacity Luzhniki stadium which will host next year’s final.

Argentina, orchestrated by Lionel Messi, seized the initiative early on but their first meaningful chance came in the 21st minute when Angel Di Maria received Messi’s pass in the area but Russian ‘keeper Igor Akinfeev parried his low shot for a corner.

Three minutes later Aguero forced Akinfeev into a diving save to deny his attempt from just outside the box.
Akinfeev was the hero of the first half as he produced another impressive save after Aguero’s powerful shot from just nine yards out.

After the interval Argentina continued to dominate possession and kept Russia’s defence under constant pressure but failed to find the net before the 86th minute.

Aguero broke the deadlock when he headed in a rebound from his own blocked shot after a sharp break down the right wing and low cross from Cristian Pavon.

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Scout report of Chelsea loanee Loftus-Cheek after impressive England debut

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Every weekend we pick out one under-23 player from around Europe and analyse their performance to provide you with an in-depth scouting report.

This week, we focus on England’s 0-0 draw with Germany in an international friendly as Crystal Palace midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek, on loan from Chelsea, was handed his Three Lions debut.

BASIC STATS

Shots – 0

Touches – 67

Passes – 52

Key passes – 2

Pass Accuracy – 96.2&

Aerials Won – 1

Dribbles – 4

Dispossessed – 1

Tackles – 0

EFFECTIVENESS

It may have been Loftus-Cheek’s first game in an England shirt but you wouldn’t think it based on his performance. The midfielder oozed confidence and was composed and certain in everything he did.

Eric Dier may have made the most passes for England but it was Loftus-Cheek who ran the show in midfield. His pace, dribbling, vision and passing all came to the fore and virtually every promising attack from the hosts went through him.

Playing in behind the two strikers, he dropped into pockets of space brilliantly and picked out some sublime passes with unerring ease. Early on in the game, he even made a couple of German players look a bit silly with some outrageous skill before eventually winning a free-kick.

He orchestrated England’s play in the final third but was excellent at dropping deep and spraying passes forward from a withdrawn position as well.

However, while he looked likely to create something every time he found the all at his feet, he didn’t offer too  much in winning possession back, failing to register any tackles or interceptions and didn’t trouble the goal either with no shots.

Having said that, his decision-making and effectiveness on the ball was near-perfect.

KEY MOMENTS

10th min PASS: Loftus-Cheek has time on the ball and sprays a pass forward for Tammy Abraham’s run but the striker can’t quite keep it from going out for a goal-kick.

18th min SKILL: In a tight space on the right wing, Loftus-Cheek gets away from Leroy Sane with some quick feet before nutmegging Halstenberg and then drawing the foul from Rudiger.

45th min PASS: Loftus-Cheek plays a sublime ball over the top of the German defence for Jamie Vardy but the striker’s attempt to poke it past the keeper is miscued and nearly falls for Abraham who is beaten to it by Kimmich.

59th min PASS: Another lobbed pass from Loftus-Cheek pierces the heart of the German defence and finds Eric Dier whose ball across the face of goal is turned behind for a corner.

62nd min PASS: More clever play from Loftus-Cheek in midfield sees him drive forward with the ball before setting Marcus Rashford off on the left but the Manchester United man eventually runs it out of play.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek (L)

Ruben Loftus-Cheek (L)

VERDICT – 8/10

Dele Alli has been a mainstay in England’s starting line-up for a while now without any real competition given Wayne Rooney’s decline, but he’ll be looking over his shoulder if Loftus-Cheek’s debut is anything to go by.

The midfielder bossed the game against Germany, showed plenty of athleticism, vision and composure. The only thing missing from his performance was a goal. He proved that he’s ready to play on the big stage and will be gunning for a starting berth. England have found themselves a more than able back up for the Spurs attacking midfielder.

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