Italy

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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.

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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.

Italian president’s burning remarks provide path for USMNT

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There’s no question whether the Italian national team job is a different class than the United States men’s national team.

Aside from the fact that both sides failed to qualify for the World Cup, have a vacant manager’s chair, and decent recent results at youth level, the disparity is striking (and not all in negative ways for American fans).

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Italy has won four World Cups and a EURO, and played in four additional title games. Their domestic league is Top Five, and only six pool players who’ve been called up in the last 12 months come from outside Serie A. Three play in the Premier League, two in La Liga, and one in Ligue 1. It’s qualifying slate meant top Spain or face a home-and-home playoff with another top European team.

On the other hand, the U.S. faces the most forgiving qualifying run this side of Oceania. It’s room for improvement on the international stage is much higher, and its current group is so much further from its potential than the Italian side that it’s hard to find an apt comparison (Consider that, playoff loss aside, Italy has beat the following sides in the last 18 months: Belgium, Spain, Netherlands, and Uruguay).

Differences/similarities aside — and yes, it’s a tad ridiculous to get this deep into what separates Italy from the U.S. in terms of soccer — the USSF could do worse than monitoring how the Italians are handling their World Cup disaster.

1) Accepting responsibility without caveats about their previous successes — Here’s federation president Carlo Tavecchio (who it must be noted has said some reprehensible racist things. We would never gloss over something like that, but we’re talking about the soccer side here). After blasting player selection, he then said, ‘Yeah, but I hired the dude”:

“How can you not play [Lorenzo] Insigne? I told the staff, not him. I can’t intervene [with the coach], there are rules. I have to acknowledge it; I chose the coach. It’s been four days that I haven’t slept. I wake up continuously. We have always played crosses against tall defenders, some almost two meters tall. We had to play around them with the little players, who were on the bench.”

2) Waiting a while to make the correct move — By most accounts, this is very much the plan for the United States (especially with a presidential election looming in February). While most new presidents wouldn’t begrudge the hiring of an highly-qualified name, plenty of prospective bosses would want to wait until the new (or current) man in charge cements his place.

Tavecchio dropped plenty of names, and is especially interested in Chelsea’s Antonio Conte. And he said it’ll be worth the wait.

“We’re looking for the best. They already have commitments until June from a contractual point of view. Then when we get to June, who will be free? The ones are Ancelotti, Conte, Allegri, [Claudio] Ranieri and Mancini. This is the truth of those available.”

Granted the U.S. does not have the wealth of elite experience coaches that Italy does, but the Americans are also not limited to hiring an American.

USMNT interim boss Dave Sarachan is a respected soccer name who is not going to light the shop on fire while the right hire is made during this upcoming string of friendlies.

It’s a top-bottom failure. It includes nearly every part of the system, but the man in charge is the most important part considering that the USMNT should qualify for every World Cup and somehow managed to bungle it.

America needs a bungle-free hire.

Italy sack Ventura after World Cup failure

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The most inevitable news of this week is now official: Giampiero Ventura has been sacked as Italy’s national team manager after they failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

Italy not reaching the World Cup finals for the first time since 1958 was always going to have this outcome.

Following Italy’s 0-0 draw at home against Sweden on Monday, which sealed their elimination from the World Cup after a 1-0 playoff defeat across the two legs, Ventura failed to hand in his resignation as he wanted to speak with officials at the Italian Football Association (FIGC).

The 67-year-old did that on Wednesday and was fired. Below is a statement from the FIGC.

“During a meeting called by FIGC president Carlo Tevecchio… the failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia was discussed. As the first order of business Tevecchio revealed the release of the entire technical team and, from today onwards, Gian Piero Ventura is no longer coach of the national team.”

His boss at the Italian FA, Carlo Tavecchio, is also said to be in a perilous position as the four-time World Cup champs are reeling from missing out on the World Cup tournament for just the third time in their history.

Ventura took charge of Italy in the summer of 2016 after Antonio Conte left for Chelsea and had a deal through the 2018 World Cup.

Early favorites to take charge of the Azzurri are Carlo Ancelotti and current Chelsea boss and former Italy coach Conte, while Roberto Mancini and Massimilliano Allegri are both said to be contenders for the position.

Why “soccer NIT” tournament would be a bad idea

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U.S. Soccer and Soccer United Marketing (SUM) are reportedly investigating if they can stage a tournament in the USA next summer featuring prominent teams who failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

So, in College Basketball terms, an “NIT” tournament ahead of the World Cup in Russia. This is not a joke.

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On the face of it, this seems like a splendid idea for many. Fans of the U.S. national team shared similar proposals on Twitter and Facebook as the list of big name nations failing to qualify for the World Cup increased over the past few days. I’m all for growing the sport in the USA and having as many high-profile games as often as possible in the U.S. is a good thing.

But not like this. No. No. No.

Having the U.S. at the centerpiece of an international laughing stock in the world of soccer just isn’t a good look. This should be the end of it. U.S. Soccer should be focusing on bigger problems, like making sure youth development continues to improve and having a clear plan for the future of the USMNT in place. Not this.

Having three or four money-spinning friendlies formulated in a loose tournament format to simply help ease the pain of World Cup failure is pointless.

It seems as though U.S. fans who have been robbed of seeing their team at the elite international tournament next summer are stomping their feet and want an alternative. Guys. There isn’t one. Let’s all move on.

In theory, stadiums across the USA will be full for multiple high-profile friendlies between Italy, Chile, Ghana and the USA . So, that’s good. Right? There have also been suggestions about capping the tournament so that all the players who feature are under the age 25 and that way you get to see the next generation of each nation as they rebuild their rosters following World Cup failure. So, why not?

Well, how about, why?

Other than making somebody, somewhere huge profits for full stadiums during these friendlies, I’m struggling with a viable answer. FIFA wouldn’t sanction any such tournament and it certainly wouldn’t be allowed to run into the start of the World Cup which runs from June 14 to July 15.

There is no official FIFA window for games scheduled in late May or early June. Only teams heading to the World Cup will look to play friendlies in late May and early June and the only reason the teams who didn’t qualify will be in demand is because the 32 teams who made the World Cup will not want to play against anybody they could be facing in Russia.

That means the U.S. will likely play two friendlies in June, just as they have in previous “sendoff series'” games before a World Cup. Of course, they will be going nowhere this summer but that should be it. Two friendlies, then Christian Pulisic should be allowed to spend the summer in California hanging out.

Let’s just all move on from the USA’s 2018 World Cup qualifying debacle and let’s not have the U.S. become the home, and the figurehead, to a tournament where it would be fitting to plaster a sad face emoji on the wooden spoon trophy given to the winning team.

But proponents would argue that in this “NIT” format, the U.S. could, in theory, host two games against two of Chile, Italy and Ghana with each team playing one another once. So, six games in total.

But why not go the whole hog and invite seven other nations — the Netherlands, Ivory Coast, Republic of Ireland and Wales aren’t up to much next summer now — to the USA and have an eight-team tournament with two groups of four and the top two teams from each group reach the semifinals before a final is played where the winner receives a golden wooden spoon.

Listen to how ridiculous that sounds. That is basically what is being proposed.

I have no doubt that given the growing level of fandom (see: the Copa America Centenario in 2016 and huge preseason friendlies each summer) in the USA and the fact that citizens of many other nations now call the U.S. home and barely get a chance to see their own nations play in person, that stadiums would be pretty full for most of these games.

In truth, that’s the main reason why organizers are contemplating hosting these friendly games in the U.S. Think about it.

I’m sure players like Alexis Sanchez, Marco Verratti, Virgil Van Dijk and Pulisic would love to be in the USA next summer after a monster domestic season… but on vacation and trying to get as far away as possible from reminders that they should have been at the World Cup instead.

The fact that the U.S. is even contemplating organizing and hosting this event is part of the bigger problem. For so many years U.S. Soccer has been a supreme business model with huge profits made. But that’s come at a cost, which is, obviously, not being in Russia next summer.

It’s time for U.S. Soccer to move on and focus on one thing: the U.S. national team and getting the best possible two friendlies in June. Nothing else. And then, after those friendlies are over, they should sit back and watch the 2018 World Cup so they can realize just how badly they mishandled the last four-year cycle after Brazil 2014.

Ranking the worst failures in World Cup qualifying

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So many high expectation nations missed the 2018 World Cup that a second-tier tournament is being bandied about, enough so that people are legitimately intrigued at the idea.

That begs the question: How did we get here? In some cases, sides missed the big dance due to wonky qualifying schedules. Others had tough draws and couldn’t rebound in a playoff. Another group just flat out flopped in red, white, and blue.

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Who’s failure was most heinous? Let us count the ways, er, teams.

7) Netherlands — This is a nation that, like England, has overachieved so many times that neutrals expect more from them that, perhaps, is rational. Their domestic league is not what it once was, but finishing behind Sweden is a tough pill to swallow for a side which has been on the proverbial podium the past two World Cups and four times in its history.

6) Ivory Coast — Africa’s qualifying is brutal, but Les Elephants lost two of three home qualifiers and managed two scoreless draws away from home. In fact, the team was blanked thrice despite a unit with Gervinho, Salomon Kalou, Jonathan Kodija, and Wilfried Zaha. Yes, the nation is on a downswing, but still were the favorites to advance past Morocco.

5) Bosnia and Herzegovina — Perched atop the group for a decent period of qualifying, a loaded BNH side drew Greece home and away, lost in Cyprus, and lost at home to Belgium in a cycle which could’ve seen them make a deep run powered by Edin Dzeko, Sead Kolasinac, Asmir Begovic, and Miralem Pjanic.

4) Italy — The highest-ranked ELO team to miss the tournament, Italy had the misfortune of being drawn with Spain (and vice versa). Second-place there was no shame, but being unable to finish over two legs against Sweden may be understandable — Blågult only allowed nine goals in qualifying — but Gian Piero Ventura’s keeping Lorenzo Insigne out of the starting lineup will be questioned for a long, long time.

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3) Chile — CONMEBOL qualifying is as difficult as any confederation, and probably the toughest. Still, La Roja was shutout in six of its nine away qualifiers, including losses to eighth place Ecuador and ninth place Bolivia. For a side with Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal to be blanked that many times? Brutal.

2) Ghana – At least the Ivory Coast finished second in its group! Ghana drew all three of its home matches, managing its only win at the Republic of Congo. That means Apparently the Black Stars couldn’t imagine a World Cup without the USMNT.

*1b) United States — With respect to the improving nature of CONCACAF, the confederation’s relative weakness and wildly forgiving Hex means the Bruce Arena’s men did as poorly as any decent nation in the world. To not even make a playoff is embarrassing, and the first leg of Honduras versus Australia lets you know all that’s needed about the quality of the lesser friends of CONCACAF.

*1a) Australia — The asterisks is important because the Socceroos dominated Honduras in the first leg only to not find a goal, and can still advance to the World Cup with a win at 4 a.m. ET in Sydney. But losing to Honduras after finishing behind Saudi Arabia on the weakness of handing Thailand one of its only two points of qualifying? Wooooof.