Pirlo defends underperforming Azzurri
Italy legend Andrea Pirlo has defended the Azzurri's poor formÂ and rejected claims the state of football in his homeland is in poor health.
Gian Piero Ventura's side limped to a 1-1 home draw with Macedonia on Friday, meaning they must navigate the play-offs in order to qualify for the World Cup.
If they do reach Russia 2018, Italy will be attempting to avoid a third successive group-stage exit following disappointing displays in 2010 and 2014.
But Germany 2006 championÂ Pirlo,Â who on Sunday announced his impending retirement from a decorated 22-year playing career, is confident results will soon improve.
"Italian football is not sick," the 38-year-oldÂ told Gazzetta dello Sport.
"It's true that we have had two bad exits from the World Cup, but in the middle we had two great Euro campaigns with a final and a good showing in France. With a little more luck, we could have gone right to the end in France.
"There is currently a changing of the guard that happened with Germany, France and Spain as well.
"Once it's over, you will have a more prolific period and start winning again."
Pirlo played under the likes ofÂ Giovanni Trapattoni, Marcello Lippi and Cesare PrandelliÂ during his stellar international career, but the man with 116 caps to his nameÂ picked out one former boss for special praise: Antonio Conte.
"His attention to detail is impressive,"Â Pirlo said of the Chelsea manager, who led Italy from 2014 to 2016.
"One of his 20-minute video sessions is worth three days on the training ground. You immediately understand what it is you have to do.
"He is one of the best, absolutely."