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

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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.