Gian Piero Ventura

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Giovinco’s agent: “Absurd” TFC star not getting Italy call

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Toronto FC star Sebastian Giovinco is either the best player in Major League Soccer or a close second to Spanish legend David Villa.

Giovinco’s agent, Andrea D’Amico, knows that MLS has yet to reach the status of the top leagues in the world, but fails to understand how the Atomic Ant’s incredible production doesn’t get him in back into Gian Piero Ventura’s Italian national team.

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Giovinco, 30, has 54 goals and 33 assists in 83 games with TFC, but hasn’t been capped since a pair of late 2015 EURO qualifiers.

From MLSSoccer.com’s translation of a Tutto Mercato report:

“I find it absurd,” said D’Amico. “It’s a shame that a player with his skill, with his characteristics and his eye for goal isn’t called. Giovinco knows how to score in every way, even from free kicks, he’s a starter for his club and an absolute star in MLS. I don’t understand why players on the bench for Italian teams are getting called up instead, but sadly the story is always the same lately.”

Italy’s squad is running well, unbeaten in nine with seven wins. The idea of calling up a 30-year-old over a younger prospect isn’t especially attractive for Ventura, but Italy faces a Sept. 2 match with Spain which is likely to determine which vaunted side gets an automatic spot in Russia and which one heads to the playoffs. Seems to me a dynamic dead ball expert could do the trick.

Italy coach Ventura signs new contract until 2020

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ROME (AP) Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura will remain in charge of the Azzurri until 2020 after signing a new contract.

Carlo Tavecchio, the president of the Italian football federation, announced the deal on Wednesday in a news conference with Ventura.

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The 69-year-old Ventura thanked the federation for “its trust” in him, adding: “There is the absolute conviction that we can achieve something important.”

Ventura took charge of Italy in July 2016, replacing Antonio Conte, who left to join Chelsea after steering the Azzurri to the quarterfinals of the European Championship.

Italy has not lost any of its World Cup qualifiers under Ventura and is level on points with Spain at the top of Group G. It plays Spain in Madrid on Sept. 2.

Italy’s Ventura calls in youth for games against Albania, Netherlands

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FLORENCE, Italy (AP) Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura is counting on his youngsters.

Ventura has not been afraid to bring in new players since he took charge after the 2016 European Championship, including giving teenage goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma his debut.

“We all remember when I said there was a crop of youngsters who would need to be taken care of to build an important national team for the future,” Ventura said. “If we qualify for the World Cup then we could be a surprise because there is a huge hunger in these young players.”

Ventura has also organized two training camps to have a closer look at other young players, with a third planned for May.

“The young players must live, breath and experience the national team, only then will they be ready for important challenges,” he said. “We are convinced that the youngsters will be the future and we are giving them time to grow.

“(Andrea) Petagna and (Leonardo) Spinazzola have gone from the training camp to the full team. But It’s not enough to be young, you also have to have potential. Of course some guys have fulfilled expectations, others have stopped.”

Only the nine European group winners are guaranteed to reach the World Cup, while the eight best runners-up face a playoff. Italy is level on points with Spain at the top of Group G but second on goal difference.

“The primary concern is qualifying, seeing as it’s the first time that only one team goes through and we’re not at the top of the standings,” Ventura said. “To qualify we need the youngsters but also the experience of those less young.”

Italy and Spain, which drew 1-1 in Turin, are next scheduled to meet on Sept. 2. Before that, Italy faces Liechtenstein on June 11 and Albania in Palermo on Friday. Italy also visits the Netherlands for a friendly international next Tuesday.

“The result is extremely important,” Ventura said. “We are aware it will be a delicate match and that will allow us to go to Spain to obtain something concrete.

“I am calm because after three months I have again found a group of players who are ready to give their all.”

Giovinco left off Italy squad because MLS “doesn’t count for much”

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ROME (AP) Despite two months of solid play with Nice, Mario Balotelli remains excluded from Italy’s national team because of his past history as a divisive personality both on and off the field.

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“It’s not due to technical reasons that Balotelli isn’t on the national team,” Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura said Monday. “He has great skills. Nobody is debating his technical abilities. Rather it’s a thousand other factors.”

Since transferring to Nice on deadline day, Balotelli has scored six goals in six French league appearances, helping his new club to first place.

“He’s been back in form for two months now but you can’t think that in two months somebody has changed who they are,” Ventura added.

After scoring only one league goal in each of the past two seasons with Liverpool and AC Milan, respectively, Balotelli never played for Italy under coach Antonio Conte.

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His last appearance for Italy came when the Azzurri were eliminated in the first round of the 2014 World Cup – where he was considered a distraction by several teammates.

At 26, though, Balotelli potentially has many more years as a top player.

Ventura said he will have a discussion with Balotelli “to see if he has the desire to be a leader within the team.”

“There are another two and a half months to evaluate,” the coach added, looking ahead to a possible return in 2017.

Meanwhile, forward Graziano Pelle also remains excluded after refusing to shake Ventura’s hand following a substitution during a 1-1 draw with Spain last month.

“I thought it would be useful for him to have a pause to reflect,” Ventura said of Pelle, who transferred from Southampton to Chinese club Shandong Luneng in July.

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As for Sebastian Giovinco, Ventura said the high-scoring forward for MLS club Toronto FC has been left out because he “plays in a league that doesn’t count for much.”

Italy is training for a World Cup qualifier at Liechtenstein on Saturday and a friendly with Germany three days later in Milan.

Ventura plans to rely on the forward tandem of Andrea Belotti and Ciro Immobile – both of whom played under him at Torino.

“They’re two players I don’t need to get to know. I know them perfectly well since I coached them,” Ventura said. “They have a chance to take over the national team.”

Immobile has scored nine goals in 12 matches for Lazio this season, while Belotti has eight in 10 for Torino.

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/asdampf