Italy has a rejuvenated team that is strong enough to be real World Cup contenders in 2018. The problem is that the Azzurri might not even get to Russia…

One of the most talked about national teams in the world is always Italy, but it is especially the case these days as the famous Azzurri can look towards a bright future like few other nations. After a decade in the shadows, struggling to move on from the World Cup winning side in 2006 and not finding a new generation to repeat past glories, Italy finally have a group of youngsters that possess the potential to reach a World Cup final again.

The Azzurri have a group of under-25 players that are at the same quality as the senior footballers and are starting a process of refreshing and integration. In Russia 2018 or Qatar 2022 this team could be one of the best. But there is a serious problem: Italy might miss out on being in Russia at all, due to having an imperious Spain in its qualifying group.

Both Italy and Spain have been winning every single match in Group G, aside from the 1-1 draw between the two sides in Turin last October. A series of results that have put the Spaniards in a position of advantage at the head of the group on goal difference. A win or a 0-0 draw in Spain next September will see Julen Lopetegui’s side head to Russia, with Italy having to face another qualifying round.

Risky, to say the least, for Giampiero Ventura’s men. Italy haven’t missed out on the final stages of a World Cup since 1958 and this is probably the closest they’ve been to not attending in decades. The way the group works doesn’t help, and having to face an extra round could mean not seeing such an exciting group of young players on the biggest stage.

Players like Gianluigi Donnarumma, Andrea Belotti, Domenico Berardi, Federico Bernardeschi, Daniele Rugani, Alessio Romagnoli – just to mention a few – easily have a decade at a high level ahead of them, and unless something unpredictable happens, they will be the future of Italy well beyond the Russian World Cup.

Giampiero Ventura has made it clear that the focus for the Azzurri, after Antonio Conte’s side’s great result at the last European Championships, is the renewal of the team, a deep rejuvenation of the squad, that will see players like Gianluigi Buffon and Daniele De Rossi eventually moving on.

Paris Saint-Germain’s Marco Verratti and Juventus’ Leonardo Bonucci are slightly older than the bulk of the new squad, but have the right mix of experience, leadership and age, not being that old yet. They will be the charismatic leaders of the new group, with the youngsters surrounding them.

Italy’s presence in Russia will be in doubt until the very end, but one thing is clear: finally the Azzurri have a pool of young players that gives hope for a fantastic future.

World Cup FactFile

2006 – Champions

2010 – Out at Group Stages

2014 – Out at Group Stages

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