It was a substitution the home fans were pleased to see. While Italy were losing in Giampiero Ventura’s first match in charge against France, and would go on to lose 3-1, the arrival of Marco Verratti just past the hour mark was a welcome return.
The midfielder had been forced to miss much of the 2015-16 campaign and subsequently Euro 2016 through injury. It was a blow for the Italians, who nonetheless performed well in the tournament.
His entrance on Thursday was positive for Ventura and the new Azzurri era. And well-timed. As Verratti returned, Daniele De Rossi sustained an injury which rules him out of tonight’s opening World Cup qualifier against Israel. Verratti, so long threatening to break into the Nazionale limelight, now has a fantastic opportunity.
Since his swashbuckling displays for Pescara which led to a risky, but rewarding move to Paris Saint-Germain in 2012, Verratti has been seen as the brightest young talents in Italy. He played twice at World Cup 2014, but Andrea Pirlo’s international u-turn under new boss Antonio Conte meant Verratti had to bide his time. He made five Euro 2016 qualifying appearances and with Pirlo out of favour, only injury kept Verratti from a starting spot.
With both De Rossi and Claudio Marchisio absent, this is Verratti’s time to shine. In Ventura, Italy have a boss not afraid to give younger players a chance, something some past tacticians have been guilty of. As Ventura said on Sunday, while Conte took over on the back of three Scudetto triumphs at Juventus he had ‘victories’ of his own at Torino: seeing budding talents progress to Europe’s biggest clubs and to the national team.
The stars are aligning. And Verratti, who has won championships in France and made it to the latter stages of the Champions League, is ready for Italy’s upcoming test. It’s a difficult group which also includes Spain and fellow Euro 2016 qualifiers Albania. The opening match away to Israel is tricky, but also a must-win with La Furia Roja visiting Turin next month.
The 23-year-old has taken on responsibility in France and is ready to do so for the Azzurri. “The role I play in is not important. What matters is doing what the coach asks of me so I can do what’s best for the team. I do like Ventura’s way of understanding football.”
Always appearing at consummate ease in possession, Verratti has the quality to add to what many would suggest is a low tally of just 16 Azzurri caps. He can become their central lynchpin.
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