The prevailing theme for Gian Piero Ventura's run as Italy coach was that the 69-year-old journeyman manager was in far over his head. Having never coached a major club before taking over the national team last year, Ventura covered himself in disgrace on Monday when four-time champion Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in six decades. Ventura was widely criticized for poor tactical decisions before and after Sweden's 1-0 aggregate win over the Azzurri. After the scoreless draw in the second leg, it was a foregone conclusion he will be fired according to a contract stipulation in case of a failed qualification, unless he resigns. "I'm not resigning because I haven't spoken with the (federation) president," Ventura said. "We need to evaluate things. We'll see. I'll talk with the federation and confront the problem. "I feel I have to apologize to Italians for the result." Ventura's expected ouster will come in sharp contrast to his predecessor, Antonio Conte. Conte was lauded for getting the most out of Italy before the Azzurri lost on penalties to Germany in the quarterfinals of last year's European Championship. When Conte departed for Chelsea after Euro 2016, Ventura was given the crowning job on a career that had seen him coach the likes of Pisa, Bari, and Torino. "I've been in football many years so I know how to accept it," Ventura said of the failed qualification. "I'm honored to have been a part of the national team and to have worked with great champions and with others that I hope will become great. "I'm upset because tonight I understood the significance of coaching the national team." Ventura's attachment to two forwards he coached at Torino, Ciro Immobile and Andrea Belotti, and his refusal to try a three-striker formation, led him to continually leave Napoli winger Lorenzo Insigne on the bench. Considered Italy's most talented player of the moment, Insigne was inexplicably asked to come on for Marco Verratti in a central midfield position late in the opening leg against Sweden. Likewise, winger Stephan El Shaarawy was given little playing time despite a show of solid form at Roma that included a brace against Conte's Chelsea in the Champions League. "We showed few ideas and not much in the way of tactics," said veteran midfielder Daniele De Rossi, who retired from the national team after the playoff. Late in the second leg, De Rossi argued with Ventura's staff when they asked him to warm up. He later suggested he thought Insigne or someone else should enter. "If I offended anyone I'm sorry," De Rossi said. The Azzurri elimination had been brewing for months. Italy was outclassed by Spain 3-0 in September, virtually sealing its fate of entering the playoffs. Then in five consecutive matches, Italy scored a total of three goals against Israel, Macedonia, Albania and Sweden. "Sport teaches that you win and lose as a team," retiring captain Gianluigi Buffon said. "The coach shares in our mistakes." Carlo Ancelotti, who was fired by Bayern Munich in September, is being mentioned as a possible replacement for Ventura. Ancelotti, who coached Juventus and AC Milan before going abroad to win titles with Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid and Bayern, has the big-club resume that Ventura lacked.
But it remains to be seen if he'll be willing to coach the national team, or if he still prefers the daily activities of a club. Other options include installing a caretaker and luring back Conte, who has expressed homesickness at Chelsea, or perhaps Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri or Zenit St. Petersburg's Roberto Mancini once the club season ends. Meanwhile, the status of Italian football federation president Carlo Tavecchio was also in question. Italian Olympic Committee president Giovanni Malago, who oversees all sports in the country, intimated recently that Tavecchio should resign if Italy fails to qualify. There is a precedent since Giancarlo Abete, the previous federation president, and coach Cesare Prandelli each resigned immediately after Italy was eliminated in the first round of the 2014 World Cup. Whoever takes over will have to rebuild a squad that doesn't feature a single standout player. There is youth, though. Belotti is only 23, Insigne is 26 and Immobile is 27. At 27, the long-excluded Mario Balotelli could still have plenty to contribute if he ever matures enough. At 25, Marco Verratti still hasn't put in a solid performance for Italy as he attempts to replace the retired Andrea Pirlo in midfield. In defense, the veteran "BBC" trio of Andrea Barzagli, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci who have a combined age of 99 is destined to be broken up with Barzagli retiring from the national team. Younger defenders on the horizon include Daniele Rugani, Alessio Romagnoli and Mattia Caldara. In goal, 18-year-old AC Milan starter Gianluigi Donnarumma is set to replace Buffon.
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