Turin (Italy) (AFP) – Italy coach Giam Piero Ventura admitted there’s work to do after an outclassed Azzurri stumbled to a 1-1 World Cup 2018 qualifying draw with Spain on Thursday.
Roma midfielder Daniele De Rossi levelled from the spot eight minutes from time as Italy grabbed a lucky point after Sevilla forward Vitolo had given La Roja a 55th minute lead after pouncing on a rare blunder from goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
Italy’s 2-0 defeat of Spain in the last 16 of the European Championships ended Spanish hopes of challenging for a record third consecutive title.
But only three months on, and in spite of failing to avenge their Euro setback, the former world champions showed they are back with a bang.
Juventus Stadium was silenced for long periods as Spain’s ‘tiki-taka’ game baffled the hosts, and Ventura, who replaced Antonio Conte earlier this summer after his move to Chelsea, admitted there is work to do.
“In some areas of the pitch we have little problems to sort out. We need a different kind of approach to try and mask these problems,” Ventura said.
“It was a game of two halves and the changes we made after the restart meant we had a much better second half.
“Spain were superior but, apart from their goal, Buffon hardly had a save to make. But we should learn a lot from this game.
“In the opening half we spent a lot of time running, but only to chase the ball.”
Italy were outclassed throughout a one-sided opening half in which Spain enjoyed 77 percent possession and saw Gerard Pique come closest with a close-range header that Buffon collected.
It took only 10 minutes of the second half for the Azzurri defence to buckle, Buffon rushing out to close down Vitolo when he ran on to Sergio Busquets’ through ball. The Sevilla forward coolly slid the ball into the empty net.
Ventura replaced the ineffective Graziano Pelle with Lazio forward Ciro Immobile, and the impact was almost immediate.
Immobile injected a much-needed dose of pace and creativity into a wilting attack, notably threatening when he slid in late to meet Eder’s delivery after he was set up by Alessandro Florenzi.
Vitolo should have doubled Spain’s lead on 69 minutes when he was sent free but with three defenders in hot pursuit the 26-year-old fired inches wide of Buffon’s far post.
Italy claims for a penalty on 80 minutes were initially waved away by referee Felix Brych, but after consultation with his official, the German pointed to the spot and De Rossi stepped up to send David De Gea the wrong way.
De Rossi claimed Italy had “maintained the same kind of ferocity that was our mark at the Euros”.
But the Roma midfielder admitted: “But we have to make big improvements, everyone knows that, above all the coach.”
Italy spurned a great chance to snatch the win in the end when Immobile flashed a drive across the goalmouth that found no takers.
Only the group winners automatically qualify for the finals in Russia and with Albania, Israel, Macedonia and Liechtenstein included Italy are expected to battle Spain for top spot.
Spain coach Jelun Lopetegui admitted the result left a bitter-sweet taste.
But the former Porto handler was rightly buoyed at taking a precious away point from Italy, several months ahead of preparing for the return meeting.
“The glass is both half-full and half-empty,” Lopetegui said.
“We gave a good account of ourselves against a strong side, in this stadium. You can’t give too much away to Italy and in the first half we kept their opportunities to a minimum.
“We suffered a little in the second half but overall I’m happy with our performance. We showed our character and our ambition.
“It doesn’t really help us in terms of claiming top spot in the group but we’re on the right road and already looking ahead to our next game (against Albania).”
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