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Italy play Russian roulette for World Cup ticket

Italy were outclassed by Spain in a demoralising 3-0 World Cup qualifying defeat in Madrid which leaves the four-time champions facing a precarious play-off in November to reach Russia.

Italy play Russian roulette for World Cup ticket
Spain forward Alvaro Morata (C) vies with Italy defenders Leonardo Bonucci (L) and Andrea Barzagli during the World Cup 2018 qualifier on Saturday. Photo: AFP

Giampiero Ventura's side were lambasted in the press Sunday for his tactics but also individual performances including midfielder Marco Verratti and veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.

“Ventura, what is this Italy?” headlined the Corriere dello Sport which summed up the bitter disappointment after the previous night's showing at the Santiago Bernabeu.

“Little Italy, Russian roulette,” the newspaper continued on its inside pages as Azzurri trailed not only in fitness but quality.

The clash was between the top two teams in Group G but the difference in class was evident with an Isco brace and Alvaro Morata putting Spain three points ahead with three qualifying games left.

The defeat was Italy's first loss in either World Cup or Euro qualifying since September 2006, a run of 56 matches.

Italy now need Spain to lose one of their remaining qualifying games against Liechtenstein, Albania or Israel to have any hope of avoiding a double-headed playoff.

The performance was a far cry from just over a year ago under Ventura's predecessor Antonio Conte who lead the Italians to a 2-0 win over Spain in Euro 2016.

Former Torino coach Ventura was slammed for his 4-2-4 system which fell with Daniele De Rossi and Verratti under constant attack in midfield.

But it was a series of embarrassing errors by Verratti which drew scathing criticism, with 39-year-old Buffon also in the firing line.

“Bad evening or decline? Time passes and reactions and reflexes are no longer the same,” wrote la Gazzetta of the veteran goalkeeper.

“Right now we are human and Spain are less human,” said Ventura as he turned his attention to Tuesday's qualifier against Israel which will be followed by games against Macedonia and Albania in October.

“We gifted them some situations and helped them out. If one match hits our self-confidence, it means we are not competitive, so I cannot believe that.”

Italy now face a play-off in November with Sweden, Greece, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland possible opponents. The last time Italy had to go through the play-offs was in 1997 on the road to the 1998 World Cup in France.

And one who will remember that is Buffon, who had just got first cap during the away leg play-off in Russia, and remains confident this time out.

“We believe and hope to go to the World Cup,” said Buffon. “There is a year ahead of us, there will be training camps to refine certain mechanisms. There are values in this squad that don't always emerge.”

READ ALSO: Napoli, Juve, Milan and Inter all win to stay top of Serie A

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Euro 2020: Concern about virus spread after Italy players’ ‘unauthorised’ victory parade through Rome

Italy’s national football team reportedly insisted on taking an open-top bus tour through Rome to show off their European Championship trophy to crowds of fans - despite city authorities forbidding it amid concern about the spread of coronavirus.

Euro 2020: Concern about virus spread after Italy players' ‘unauthorised’ victory parade through Rome
Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

The team’s bus parade through the city on Monday night following their Euro 2020 triumph “was not authorised”, according to Matteo Piantedosi the head of Rome’s prefettura (the public safety authority).

Thousands of fans packed the streets of central Rome to see the team celebrate their cup win after beating England on penalties in the final.

READ ALSO: ‘Football came home’: Italy celebrates Euro 2020 victory over England

Piantedosi told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on Wednesday: “We had denied permission to celebrate Italy’s victory in the European Championships on the open bus, but the pact was not respected.”

Piantedosi, who is Rome’s top public security official, said police had “no choice” but to let the parade go ahead after players Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci insisted on it.

Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

A meeting had been held on Friday with the Italian football federation (FIGC) to discuss plans for the celebrations if Italy won, said Piantedosi.

“I had agreed the line with Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese and Chief of Police Lamberto Giannini,” he said.

“It was clearly explained that [the parade] was not possible. We said we could not authorize it.”

Piantedosi said the Italian football federation (FIGC) initially agreed to hold a “controlled” ceremony in Rome’s central Piazza del Popolo instead of the parade.

After players insisted on the bus tour on Monday however, Piantedosi said, authorities reluctantly let them go ahead due to fears of sparking public disorder.

“At that point we had no choice but to acknowledge the situation and handle it in the best way we could,” he said.

READ ALSO: Covid cases on the rise in Europe once again as WHO warns of Euro 2020 risk

Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

In a statement on Wednesday, the FIGC said it had acted responsibly but decided not to disappoint fans who had come to celebrate with the team.

Footage of large crowds thronging the bus carrying the ‘Azzurri’ and the European Championship trophy through the capital however fuelled concerns about new outbreaks of coronavirus, after Italy’s infection rate began to rise again last week.

The World Health Organization warned earlier this month that crowds and gatherings connected to football matches will fuel a new rise in cases across Europe this summer.

READ ALSO: Delta variant in Italy will be ‘prevalent within 10 days’: health official

Italy’s health minister Roberto Speranza also voiced concerns on Monday about the consequences of people gathering to watch sporting events.

He said the European football championship win was “a great joy after terrible months,” but “even in these moments of national pride we can’t forget that our ‘game’ to defeat Covid is not yet won.”

There are currently minimal health restrictions in place across Italy, however masks are supposed to be worn in crowded public places, including outdoors.

“Footage shows that police were virtually the only ones [in the crowd] wearing masks,” said Piantedosi.

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