Milan (AFP) – New Italy coach Giampiero Ventura pledged to continue the good work of his predecessor Antonio Conte and “entertain” fans on their way to securing a place at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Ventura was on Tuesday unveiled as the successor to Conte, who led Italy to the quarter-finals of Euro 2016 before taking over at Premier League giants Chelsea, and is now tasked with steering Italy through a qualifying Group G that notably includes Spain.
A respected tactician, Ventura comes to the post following a five-year spell with Torino and his first game in charge is a friendly against beaten Euro 2016 finalists France in Bari on September 1.
After that, Italy begin a four-game autumn stretch of their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign — only one of which is at home, against Spain on October 6. The others are away at Israel, Macedonia and Liechtenstein.
Ventura said he hopes to continue the work of Conte, who against all odds led Italy to the brink of the Euro 2016 semi-finals.
And the 68-year-old hopes his brand of football is just as entertaining.
“When your game is already well organised, you can only improve on the small details,” said Ventura.
“In little time, he (Conte) did immensely well. I hope that is something that stays with us, so I hope to do really well. I will try to play entertaining football as well.”
Although Ventura voiced doubts on the international futures of troubled striker Mario Balotelli and Graziano Pelle, who has just moved to China, he said the 23 players Conte took to France will remain Italy’s bedrock.
But he will also gauge up and coming younger players who failed to make the cut for Euro 2016, including AC Milan midfielder Giacomo Bonaventura, Domenico Berardi, poised for a move to Juventus from Sassuolo, and AC Milan’s 17-year-old goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma.
He added: “Our primary aim is to qualify for the World Cup. We have a lot of up and coming players and I want to bring them through, but we have to be patient and do so gradually.”
– Tribute to Conte –
Admitting his “pride” at being appointed, Ventura was quick to pay tribute to his 46-year-old predecessor.
“I’m absolutely delighted to be here, but more than anything proud to have been chosen to lead one of the world’s leading national football teams,” added Ventura.
“I also want to thank Antonio Conte, because he’s left me not just a squad but a squad with a great work ethic and that is going to help me.
“It will give me a small advantage when I begin because, being the national team coach, I know I won’t have the team with me every day.”
Conte, who was officially unveiled as Chelsea coach last week, led Italy past Belgium in their group opener and beat defending champions Spain in the last 16, before falling at the quarter-finals during an epic, error-strewn penalty shootout with Germany.
The performance restored faith in the four-time world champions, who have failed to get past the first round of the World Cup in the last two editions.
Italian Football Federation (FIGC) president Carlo Tavecchio said the Azzurri’s feats in France had “raised our profile”, but although he heaped praise on Conte, he expects the wily Ventura to follow suit.
“I want to thank Antonio Conte for everything he’s done for us, he created a new culture in the squad, one of sacrifice. One based on the team, not the individual,” said Tavecchio.
“I knew Conte would leave, it was to be expected. But Ventura is a football master, and was always part of my plans.”
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