Under-pressure Ventura wants Italy to qualify by 'playing football'

Reuters
Italy complained of rough play by Sweden in the first leg, including a challenge which left Leonardo Bonucci with a broken nose, while Sweden was unhappy with italy's gamesmanship.
Reuters
Reuters

Italy’s Lorenzo Insigne and Eder take part in a training session at the San Siro stadium in MIlan, Italy, on November 12, 2017, on the eve of their World Cup playoff second leg against Sweden. The Swedes won the first leg 1-0.

Beleaguered Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura said his team would try to qualify for the World Cup by “playing football” after their ill-tempered playoff first leg against Sweden.

The 69-year-old Ventura — the oldest-ever coach in Italy’s history — said it would take him months to listen to all the advice he had received as he bids to overturn Friday's 0-1 first-leg defeat in Stockholm.

That loss left Italy in danger of missing the World Cup for the first time in 60 years and the tension ahead of Monday's return at the San Siro is palpable.

Italy complained of rough play by Sweden in the first leg, including a challenge which left Leonardo Bonucci with a broken nose, while the Swedes were unhappy at their rivals' alleged gamesmanship.

Italy has said that defender Bouncci will play on Monday with a face mask.

"We are Italy and, if we qualify, I would like to be able to say that we did it by playing football," Ventura told reporters. "I don't know what sort of game it will be but I hope it will be played in the correct spirit."

Ventura's tactics and team selection have been the subject of heated debate.

He ditched his preferred 4-2-4 formation for a 3-5-2 in Friday's match and Italians are eager to see what he will come up with on Monday and who will replace suspended midfielder Marco Verratti.

"I've received so much advice in the last few days that, if I tried to listen to it all, it would take months," said Ventura.

"I know that's how it works when you are coach of the national team although I didn't expect it to be quite like this.

"I can assure you that coaches listen to advice and analyze it, but it is us who decide."

Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon said the team was in a state of "high tension".

"It's an important match for us and our history," said the 39-year-old. "It's important for football in our country that we qualify for the World Cup."

"I am approaching this like the eve of any important event. I'm tense, but it's the right amount of tension."

The match has an added significance for Buffon, who is set to retire at the end of the season. Should Italy fail to qualify it could be the veteran goalkeeper's last international match after 20 years between the posts for the Azzurri.

"It's happened so many times in my career that I've been in front of important crossroads," Buffon said. "It doesn't change anything concerning my future, what would change is that a win, more than meaning I would continue in the national shirt, would mean so much for all of us and for the footballing movement.

"At the moment my situation is secondary, it doesn't matter."

Sweden, meanwhile, is taking nothing for granted as it heads to Milan for the second leg after Jan Andersson's players took a 1-0 lead in the tie.

Jakob Johansson's deflected second-half strike gave Sweden a precious win in a physical first leg on Friday, and its task now is to remain focused in the return match.

"It's not a normal qualifier where, when the game is over, you can celebrate the three points. We're only halfway through this double-header," midfielder Sebastian Larsson said.

"We're fully aware of the task ahead of us, going to Italy with a slender 1-0 lead. To keep a clean sheet was obviously something we really wanted and we're pleased with that. We re-focus and go again."

Special Reports
Top