For the first time ever in his international career, Gianluigi Buffon got to wear the famed Azzurri blue jersey that his teammates roll out in on a regular basis. For an outfield jersey, it look pretty good on Buffon as a keeper kit. (Then again, what doesn’t look good on Buffon? Dude is about as stylish as they come.)
You just can’t say the same about his teammates, though.
Italy needed all of one point to ensure they would be in a playoff game for the 2018 World Cup. They got that one single point instead of the three that would have put them in the driver’s seat when it comes to being one of the top group runners-up — and that’s about all the positives we can take out of the Azzurri’s 1-1 draw against Macedonia on Friday night in Turin.
Even before Giorgio Chiellini found the back of the net, Italy wasn’t playing all that well. Against a Macedonia side that was ranked 103rd in the world in the latest FIFA rankings, Italy couldn’t do much of anything right. You would think that an Italy attack that features the like of Ciro Immobile — who has 13 goals in 10 games in all competitions for Lazio this season — and Lorenzo Insigne could muster something more than just three shots on target.
And that’s the main problem here.
Giampiero Ventura has been on the job for a little under 18 months now and we still don’t know what kind of direction he wants to take this team. He’s had important players dealing with injuries. And it’s not like a midfield of Daniele De Rossi, Marco Verratti and Claudio Marchisio wouldn’t have been helpful Wednesday night. But still, the decision-making and starting lineup choices Ventura has made in Italy’s last handful of qualifiers are ones that leave you scratching your head just a little bit at the very least. Against Spain he rolls out a 4-2-4. Against Macedonia he rolls out a 3-4-3. Sure, tactical flexibility is nice — just ask Max Allegri what utilizing multiple formations has been able to do for his Juventus team over the last three years — but if you still can’t find the right formula after nearly a year and a half in charge, then something
That’s certainly the case here.
Tuttosport is basically proclaiming it’s done with Ventura after the Macedonia draw. They won’t be alone in that line of thinking. For whatever reason, he can’t get this team going full steam from one game to the next. It’s on his shoulders to put this team in position to win and, for the most part, he has gotten points but the overall product leaves a whoooole lot more to be desired.
Then Italy goes out and gets a draw ... against Macedonia ... at home.
That just shouldn’t happen.
There is all of one month to go before Italy has a two-legged playoff to determine whether they will be spending a good portion of their summer in Russia. That’s not a whole lot of time as it may seem.
But Italy is now up against the wall when it comes to reaching the World Cup next summer. And a lot of the pressure will be on Ventura to get things done with all the pressure that is going to be hanging over him.
It's hard to know what may happen until the playoff opponent is known, but my fear of Italy missing the World Cup gets ever greater.— Luca Cetta (@l_cetta) October 7, 2017
/nods a million times over/
If this Italy team misses the World Cup and denies Buffon the chance at history after he celebrates his 40th birthday in January, it won’t matter how good he looks in a keeper kit. It would be just sad that one of the game’s absolute legends wouldn’t be able to take what could very well be his final bow on the world’s biggest stage.