No World Cup, no Buffon but some hope – Italy’s changing of the guard

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If you’ve ever watched your team be relegated, lose a cup final or miss out on a league title, you know the agony of Italy supporters last night.

Not since 1958 have the Azzurri missed out on a World Cup Finals.

But following yesterday’s 0-0 draw with Sweden at the San Siro, the four-time winners will be absent from Russia next year.

While in the short-term it will be an enormous blow to Italian staff, players and supporters alike, in the long-term it could usher in a new era for Italian football.

Some of the Azzurri’s greatest servants – Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Barzagli, Daniele De Rossi and Giorgio Chiellini will now retire.

Between them they have amassed an astonishing 461 caps over a period spanning 21 years. By comparison, the other 23 players in last night’s squad share 441 caps.

Losing that kind of experience is a blow for any team. But it should also serve to place an emphasis on youth that can drive Italy forwards for years to come.

For starters, Gianluigi Donnarumma has long been hailed as the heir to Buffon’s throne.

At just 18-years-old, the AC Milan stopper has already courted suitors from all over Europe. He’s in the same mould as the great Juventus ‘keeper and has all of the qualities to join him as one of the greats over the next 20 years.

Recent call-ups have also seen impressive Milan duo Andrea Conti and Alessio Romagnoli get chances in the side.

So too Roma starlet Lorenzo Pellegrini in midfield, who has shone so far in Serie A, providing creativity and precision in the middle of the park.

Alongside Paris Saint-Germain star Marco Verratti and Federico Bernardeschi of Juve, the Azzurri have the makings of a promising midfield.

But it’s up-front where the biggest problem lies.

Ciro Immobile has not been used effectively on the international stage, while Simone Zaza, Eder and Manolo Gabbiadini have all wasted their opportunities.

However, there is hope with Andrea Belotti.

The Torino hitman has bagged four goals in 13 games for Italy and at 23-years-old has the world at his feet.

A move to a bigger club is surely inevitable for a player who holds the key to his nation’s problems going forward.

With Belotti leading the line and a more progressive, adventurous manager in the hotseat, don’t expect Italy to be reeling from this setback for long.

All Odds and Markets correct as of date of publication

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Nick Murphy

Nick is a graduate of the UEA where he doubled up as the sports editor of the student newspaper. He supports Dagenham & Redbridge and previously edited the matchday programme at Victoria Road. Darts and Horse Racing are among his other favourite sports.