Italy’s Verratti steps up to replace legend Pirlo

Italy coach Antonio Conte has called on Marco Verratti to take the next step towards replacing Andrea Pirlo as the Azzurri's midfield orchestrator ahead of this weekend's Euro 2016 qualifier away to Bulgaria.

Italy's Verratti steps up to replace legend Pirlo
Marco Verratti joined PSG from Pescara in 2012. Photo: Franck Fife/AFP

Verratti has long been considered the heir to Italy great Pirlo and Saturday's game in Sofia offers a rare chance for the 22-year-old to stake his claim.

Both Juventus midfielder Pirlo, who is recovering from injury, and Roma midfielder Daniele De Rossi were left out of Conte's squad for Saturday as well as Tuesday's friendly against England in Turin.

Verratti is tipped for a central midfield role alongside Claudio Marchisio and Antonio Candreva, with Matteo Darmian and Manuel Pasqual playing in the wide positions.

When asked about Pirlo and De Rossi, Conte told reporters at Italy's Coverciano training base near Florence: "They're both great players who still have a lot to offer.

"But this is a good opportunity for a player like Verratti. The time is right for him to take the reins in midfield."

Unlike 35-year-old Pirlo, who has spent his entire career in Italy's top flight, Verratti has yet to play for a top Italian club having joined PSG in 2012 from Pescara, where his performances won plaudits throughout Italy.

But that has not stopped the diminutive midfielder from dreaming big.

After PSG swept Chelsea aside to qualify for the Champions League quarter-finals, he told Gazzetta dello Sport last week: "Some great players are ahead of me, but if I'm given the chance to show what I can do I will give it everything.

"Until now, Conte has given me opportunities. It's up to me to exploit every one of them."

Conte is set to deploy his trademark 3-5-2 formation on Saturday with Juventus trio Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli in defence ahead of Juve keeper Gianluigi Buffon.

Barzagli recently made his return for Juventus following a lengthy injury lay-off, and admitted: "I was limping for six, seven months even just to go to the bathroom. I began to feel totally estranged from the squad."

However question marks remain over Italy's strike force. Argentinian-born Franco Vazquez (Palermo) and Brazilian-born Eder (Sampdoria) became the latest 'oriundi' – players born to Italian emigrant families – to be called up to the national squad.

But they could have to wait for their Italy debut, with Borussia Dortmund striker Ciro Immobile being tipped to partner Sassuolo's Simone Zaza against Bulgaria.

READ MORE: Italy's football squad gets foreign boost

Photo by Giuseppe Cacace/AFP

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Juve’s Allegri coy on Italy job

Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri distanced himself from taking up the vacant post as Italy coach on Saturday, but left the door open to eventually accepting the job.

Juve's Allegri coy on Italy job
Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri. Photo: Patricia De Melo Moreira/AFP

Italy are still reeling from their historic failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup finals after Sweden beat them in the play-offs on Monday.

Heartbroken Italians are looking for some immediate positive response, and Allegri, who won the Italian title in 2011 at AC Milan and the last three at Juventus, would fit the bill.

“Coaching the national team is one of my ambitions, but not right now,” the 50-year-old told a press conference ahead of Juventus's game at Sampdoria on Sunday.

“In a few years,” said the man who made his name as coach at Cagliari and who is known as tactically astute.

“I still have major objectives to attain with Juventus, building a team for the future.”

“As for the national team we can talk about that in a few years time, if indeed I ever get offered the job,” said Allegri, who took over Juventus in 2014.

Italy is still floundering in disbelief after 75,000 stunned fans in Milan's San Siro Stadium and 14.8 million horrified Italians watched their national fall from grace at the hands of Sweden on Monday.

Italy had only failed once before to make the cut, at the Sweden finals of 1958.

The Italian football federation called crisis talks on Wednesday and sacked the 69-year-old Gian Piero Ventura.

With his avuncular touch the former Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Chelsea, PSG and Juventus coach Carlo Ancelotti is the favourite to take over and rebuild the Azzurri.