Gian Piero Ventura

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Italy soccer chief resigns after failure to reach World Cup

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ROME (AP) Italian football federation president Carlo Tavecchio has resigned a week after the Azzurri failed to qualify for the World Cup.

Monday’s announcement came following calls for a complete overhaul of the nation’s most popular sport, from the amateur leagues right up to Serie A and the national teams.

[ MORE: What’s next for West Brom? ]

Sweden’s playoff win over Italy kept the four-time champion out of the World Cup for the first time in six decades.

Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura was fired two days after the loss.

For the last week, Tavecchio has resisted calls to step down but he eventually lost the support of the federation’s board of directors.

Former federation chief Giancarlo Abete said as he left the board meeting where Tavecchio resigned that a new election would be held within 90 days.

Ventura calls on Italy to combat Sweden’s physicality with talent

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MILAN (AP) Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura is hoping his players can combat Sweden’s physicality with their footballing talent when they meet again in the second leg of their World Cup playoff on Monday.

[ MORE: Switzerland qualify for World Cup | Croatia join them ]

Italy was outraged at Sweden’s physical approach in the first leg, protesting for yellow cards at perceived excessive contact, and Ventura felt Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir was too lenient.

Italy defender Leonardo Bonucci will play on Monday with a protective mask after his nose was broken during the match.

“I think the match could have been controlled in a more sportsmanlike manner,” Ventura said in a press conference on Sunday. “And that much is evident if someone tomorrow has to play with a mask on.

“But we’re Italy. If we qualify we have to do so by playing football. That doesn’t mean that Sweden doesn’t. I don’t know what kind of match it will be tomorrow, but I hope there will be better sporting behavior.”

[ MORE: Italy facing key changes ahead of decisive 2nd leg vs. Sweden ]

Italy finished behind Spain in its qualifying group and is now in danger of missing its first World Cup since 1958 after losing the first leg of its playoff 1-0 in Sweden.

“I know the match is fundamental for us, but it’s the same scenario that there was when I joined the national team,” said Ventura, who replaced Antonio Conte after the 2016 European Championship. “We knew that Spain was in our group and we could end up in the playoffs. We can’t be surprised to have got to this point.

“I honestly don’t understand: people are surprised we’re here playing this playoff but that was the scenario from the beginning. Now we’re here, if we lose we’ll make certain decisions, if we win we’ll make others.”

Ventura insisted he was calm and he appeared relaxed at the pre-match press conference, laughing and joking with Italy captain and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.

The match has an added significance for Buffon, who is set to retire at the end of the season. Should Italy fail to qualify it could be the veteran goalkeeper’s last international match after 20 years between the posts for the Azzurri.

[ MORE: Serie B coach’s epic rant meant to motivate Italy ]

“It’s happened so many times in my career that I’ve been in front of important crossroads,” Buffon said. “It doesn’t change anything concerning my future, what would change is that a win, more than meaning I would continue in the national shirt, would mean so much for all of us and for the footballing movement.

“At the moment my situation is secondary, it doesn’t matter.”

Buffon, who won the World Cup with Italy in 2006, has experienced the build-up to many important matches in a long and glittering career with Italy and Juventus.

As well as the World Cup final, Buffon also reached the final of Euro 2012 with Italy, and he also lost three Champions League finals with Juventus.

“Certainly it’s a very tense moment, it’s inevitable looking at the place that’s at stake and looking at the sense of responsibility that each one of us must have,” Buffon said.

“We’re the same as before any important event. Us players are experiencing this calmly, but each of us is experiencing it in their own personal way. Personally, I’ve been tense since Friday, I have the right focus for this match.”

Italy forced into key changes ahead of 2nd leg vs. Sweden

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MILAN (AP) The sight of Napoli winger Lorenzo Insigne being brought on for the final 15 minutes of Italy’s World Cup playoff in Sweden was a welcome one for away fans.

[ MORE: One of the favorites — Spain in fine form, thrash Costa Rica 5-0 ]

With Italy trailing 1-0 in the first leg, the Azzurri desperately needed the creative skills of the 26-year-old Insigne.

But fans and even the Italy players themselves were bemused when Insigne took up Marco Verratti’s central midfield role.

Insigne had to explain to his teammates, saying “in the middle” before shrugging his shoulders with resignation and responding “yes” to their incredulity.

The substitution failed to change the score and Italy was left at serious risk of failing to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in six decades.

[ MORE: Shaqiri promises “nice party” in Switzerland “when we qualify” ]

“The coach knows what kind of player I am, and when I’m called upon I always try to give my best,” Insigne said. “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to make a difference tonight. If the coach asks me to play for one minute or 90, I’ll always try to give 100 per cent.

“The coach asked if I felt ready to replace Verratti and I said yes because we have to give 100 per cent in any role the coach asks us to play, and even more with the national jersey … I’m disappointed, but now we must get our heads down and work because we have the return match Monday and we have to try to win it at all costs.”

It is this creative midfield role that will be Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura’s biggest headache as he ponders what changes to ring for the second leg in Milan on Monday.

Verratti is suspended after picking up a second booking in Sweden. Jorginho has been in fantastic form for Napoli this season and seems the most natural replacement but he has never played for Italy before. However, the only other option is Roberto Gagliardini and the Inter Milan midfielder lacks the offensive capabilities needed this time round.

Italy was too predictable and slow to punish Sweden’s well-organized defense on Friday. Although Ventura shelved his unpopular 4-2-4 formation, the 3-5-2 system didn’t work either.

The players appear perfectly suited to a 4-3-3 system used by Napoli and Roma, who are playing the best football in Italy at the moment.

[ MORE: WCQ — Ireland, Denmark all square ahead of decisive second leg ]

Ventura will have better options up front for the return match. Simone Zaza should be back from the knee injury which kept him out of Friday’s match, while Andrea Belotti — who has only just returned from injury — will also be in better shape.

Matteo Darmian was Italy’s best player on Friday and should start again at San Siro.

The veteran “BBC” defense of Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini also proved solid. Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon was rarely tested and the only goal was deflected in off Daniele De Rossi.

Buffon has called for Italy to play with more ferocity in Milan.

“We’ll need a physical Italy side,” the Italy captain said. “But a physical match will not be enough: we have to keep our balance, conceding a goal would be disastrous.

“We can talk about our mistakes but it won’t help anything. We need to hold our heads high and stand tall to come back. We need to be fierce, us and the whole San Siro.”

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

Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press via AP
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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.