Italy attack flourishes amid the chaos
MILAN (Reuters) - Italy may finally have stumbled across the right strike force and now all that new coach Giampiero Ventura has to do is sort out the rest of the team.
The four-times world champions gave an erratic performance littered with uncharacteristic mistakes as they came from 2-1 down to beat rank outsiders Macedonia 3-2 in a World Cup qualifier on Sunday.
But there were also plenty of encouraging signs for coach Giampiero Ventura, not least the performances of forwards Andrea Belotti, who scored his first Italy goal, and Ciro Immobile, whose late brace snatched the three points.
Both played under Ventura during his five-year stint at Torino and their displays on Sunday, combined with recent performances at club level, suggested that Italy's long search for a high-quality attack might have come to an end.
Belotti, 22, is a physically imposing striker who found his feet at Torino last season following his move from Palermo, and has begun this campaign with a flourish, scoring five goals in as many Serie A games.
Nicknamed the Rooster, he is physically imposing, with pace, a good positional sense and an ability to harass and unnerve his markers.
Like Belotti, Immobile is a hard worker, who can finish with both feet and is strong in the air.
Serie A top-scorer for Torino with 22 goals in 2013-14, his club career went off the rails after that with unsuccessful moves to Borussia Dortmund, Sevilla and back to Torino, but a switch to Lazio has brought him back to life.
With the forward conundrum possibly solved, Ventura can concentrate on other problem positions, in particular the midfield.
The 68-year-old, who replaced Conte after the Euros, has never won a major title at club level, but is widely respected in Italy and was hired largely for his reputation in nurturing young talent.
He has shown that he is not afraid to experiment, having given 21-year-old Alessio Romagnoli his debut against Spain on Thursday.
On Sunday, he also threw 22-year-old Federico Bernardeschi into the mix and handed the key midfield role to Verratti, who is 23, while leaving stalwart Daniele De Rossi on the bench.
Results were mixed. Although Italy created chances, they were left exposed to Macedonia's counter-attacks and fell to pieces alarmingly in the second half when the hosts scored twice in three minutes and had two good chances to add a third.
Verratti, in particular, is a gifted player with good vision, but is also somewhat lightweight and may need more defensive cover than Italy had on Sunday.
Ventura said it was also part of the process and promised that he would stick by his plan of rejuvenating the team - something fans of England, for example, might like to hear their coach say.
“Around 90 per cent of our mistakes were down to a lack of experience,” said Ventura. “That can happen when there are so many young players on the field.
“I think at the end of the day, we can achieve something very good.”
(Writing by Brian Homewood, editing by Ed Osmond)