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Italy Stricken (Again) by the Red Plague

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A completely avoidable disaster has dealt Italy’s World Cup qualification hopes a serious blow.

Whether you like to admit it or not, Spain has dominated the last ten years of world football at both the national and club levels. As Italy’s golden age came crashing down in 2006 due to self-serving investigators and shady evidence regarding Calciopoli, Spain’s was beginning.

10 years later, and a World Cup, two European Championships and countless UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League titles, Spain has, well, it’s place in the history books.

Factor in some corruption charges, all three of the top clubs in Spain receiving transfer bans for unethical practices and all of them running deep in the red financially, you get Spanish football.

But hey, their unethical practices are not what won them Euro 2012 against the Azzurri. Nor did they cause Barcelona and Real Madrid to trounce Juventus in the UCL finales in 2015. The bitter truth is, they’re just better.

Italy self destructed while Spain built from it. Antonio Conte’s Euro 2016 victory over the Spaniards was simply a small coup during an era of dominance. Inter’s 2010 UCL victory was the same, simply a small gap in an era of total domination.

But the Azzurri’s 3-0 capitulation in Madrid at the hands of the Reds wasn’t indicative of where the two stand. Italy has massive talents just like the Spanish do, it’s just the way they are used. Gian Piero Ventura’s blunder in both his selection and tactics gifted the Reds a win before the ball was even touched. They were defeated, you could see it in their eyes from the pre-match team photo.

It’s not an easy path to Russia now. Tonight really all but confirmed what we’ve known for months – the Italians had to go to Spain to win, anything else didn’t really matter.

It wouldn’t have made a difference if the Azzurri came roaring back to a 3-3 draw. Ventura went for it by trying to overrun arguably the most prolific and offensively minded team on the planet, and he failed. It failed because he fielded a 34 year old Daniele De Rossi and Marco Verratti, who’s played terribly for the Azzurri during this qualification campaign, in a two man midfield.

It failed because both fullbacks, Matteo Darmian and Leonardo Spinazzola haven’t even played in their leagues this season. It failed, because as much as Italy fans would like to deny it, the team simply isn’t competitive when it counts. That’s been the reality for a decade now. It’s not going to change anytime soon.

I’m not calling for Ventura’s head on this one, in fact, in retrospect I applaud him for having a go. A draw would be no different than where Italy is now.

Spain had a tough time in 2014 and 2016, but things have changed now. Real Madrid have managed to create two titanic talents for Spain, Marco Asensio and Isco. These players are echoes of the heroes from the previous generation. Where are the next Pirlo’s and Cannavaro’s?

Andrea Belotti and a slew of young defenders have a chance at becoming World-Class, but for now, it’s not happening. Real Madrid run club football, and Isco and Asensio are the fruits of their labor. Belotti isn’t going to become a world beater at Torino and Verratti won’t do it either playing in France’s Ligue 1.

For Italy, and Italian football, it’s time to take things for what they are; it’s either dig deep, or we aren’t going to a World Cup for the first time in more than half a century. Punto e basta.

@ItalianFD

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