Europe’s top nations are now turning their attention to Euro 2016. The qualifying stage is close to completion and barring Netherlands, all the expected names are joining hosts France in the tournament proper where they will fight to dethrone reigning champions Spain.
A convincing win over Azerbaijan guaranteed Italya s place in the finals next summer. While many Italy fans are still feeling the disappointment of two consecutive World Cup group stage eliminations, the new batch of players seem talented enough to do better this time. For the current generation in and around the Azzurri, the only way is up. THT looks at the best and brightest young players of Italy who could be set to light up the finals next year.
Nine years ago, Italy won the 2006 World Cup thanks largely to their defensive organisation and the individual brilliance of Fabio Cannavaro. Italy is a country known for producing some of toughest and most gifted defenders in world football. For the past few years Calcio has been unable to churn out proper defenders who will carry on this legacy. Recent performances suggest that this great era is over. But Alessio Romagnoli and Daniele Rugani have provided some hope with their steady displays. Obviously it is way too early to call them the saviours of Italian defence but the early signs are promising to say the least. Few years back, the pair of Andrea Ranocchia and Leonardo Bonucci together at Bari evoked comparisons with the legendary duo Alessandro Nesta and Paolo Maldini. However they failed to live up to the standards with Ranocchia regressing badly.
Rugani and Romagnoli are both young and have enjoyed successful Serie A campaigns already. Romagnoli has earned a big money move to AC Milan this summer while Rugani is now a Juventus player. Under the guidance of Maurizio Sarri, the current coach of Napoli, Rugani blossomed into a fine defender helping Empoli win his promotion to top flight, and also saw him thrive against some of the peninsulaa s finest attacking talent in Serie A last year. Romagnoli, who started his career as a central midfielder in Romaa s youth academy, similarly thrived under the guidance of Sinisa Mihajlovic at Sampdoria last season. After being appointed as the head coach of Milan, Mihajlovic made him the number one target for his defence and eventually got his man for a hefty sum. Tenacious, aggressive and most importantly tactically intelligent, Rugani and Romagnoli have the potential to lead the Azzurri defence for the next decade. Rugani is learning from the rock-solid trio of Barzagli-Bonucci-Chiellini at Juventus and it is just a matter of time before he gets regular first team action. Romagnoli has had a shaky start to his Milan career but considering his age such a spell can be excused. He is expected to get better as the season progresses. Both are regular starters for the Azzurrini (Italy U-21) and have developed a formidable partnership in central defence. Apart from inexperience there are not too many negatives about this pair, but that too would be clutching at straws.
The midfield will be led by the crown jewel Marco Verratti but apart from the classy regista, Italy can count on youngsters like Marco Benassi and Danilo Cataldi who have done well so far for their respective clubs in Serie A. Cataldi has began to feature regularly for Lazio after making his senior debut in the Coppa Italia quarterfinal. He has quickly adapted to Italian top flight football after spending a year on loan in Serie B. Cataldi radiates youthful exuberance on the pitch while his versatility is another vital asset. Comparisons with Claudio Marchisio were inevitable from the day he declared the Juventus man as his role model and his positioning, and movement on the ground does remind us of the Italy international.
Marco Benassi meanwhile, has shown his quality with Torino this year. Last season was also a positive campaign for the youngster and this year he permanently moved to Turin. His stunning volley against Palermo was an indication of his eye for the spectacular. His surging forward runs to support the attack makes him an important element in Torinoa s tactical system. Benassi has displayed a tremendous amount of tenacity, determination and desire on the pitch. Even though Italy has some quality midfielders, still both these players should be considered when the final team for the Euros is being decided.
Conte has moved from his tried and tested 3-5-2 to a more adventurous 4-3-3 in his recent games and the wing play against Azerbaijan looked pretty impressive. Along with the usual suspects Antonio Candreva and Stephan El Shaarawy, the Italian manager called up Domenico Berardi for the first time this year. Unfortunately an injury forced him to leave the national camp but his talent is unquestionable. Hailed as a a predestinatoa by the Italian media Berardi has shown his class for the past two years with newly promoted side Sassuolo. A sleek and elegant attacker with nimble footwork and a deadly finish, Berardi has the ability to read defences and the pace to outrun his markers. He is one of the few players in the national team who can take on his man and his left foot is quickly becoming one of the most deadly weapons in Italy. He is very good from set-pieces and his ability to play on either wings or behind the main striker shows his versatility. He is exactly the kind of creative force needed to unlock a tight game.
A player of similar mould, Federico Bernardeschi, has thrived as an inverted winger in Florence. New Fiorentina manager Paulo Sousa uses a 3-4-2-1 formation where Bernardeschi has been used as a trequartista behind the target man. He has previous experience in this role as a youth player at Fiorentina and this year will be a big test for him to showcase his talent in the top flight. He was called up in the provisional squad for the 2014 World Cup by Cesare Prandelli and has been a regular fixture for the Azzurrini in the last few years. An expert long-range finisher, he has tormented opposition defenders with his skills and technique. Comfortable and capable playing anywhere across the frontline, Bernardeschi will hope to have a positive season and break into the national team ahead of the Euros next year.