September 2, 2023

Spalletti urges Italy to forget World Cup heartbreak

Spalletti urges Italy to forget World Cup heartbreak

Italy’s national soccer team head coach Luciano Spalletti attends a press conference in Coverciano in Florence, Italy, 2 September 2023 ANSA/CLAUDIO GIOVANNINI

Luciano Spalletti on Saturday urged Italy to forget the pain of failing to qualify for the past two World Cups as he takes charge of the Azzurri’s Euro 2024 bid following the departure of Roberto Mancini.

Italy face North Macedonia and Ukraine in two matches crucial for their chances of qualifying from Group C for next summer’s tournament in Germany.

Spalletti took charge of the European champions last month after the shock resignation of Mancini, who was then hired as Saudi Arabia coach in a mega-money deal.

Mancini won Euro 2020 but also presided over play-off defeat to North Macedonia which kept them out of last year’s World Cup in Qatar.

“We need to forget the bitterness of two results which left scars on us and play a style of football that people like, a style of play that brings together an important footballing nation,” Spalletti told reporters at Italy’s Coverciano training centre.

“To be here as the national team coach is a special feeling, a long-held dream of mine. I was 11 years old for the 1970 Mexico World Cup, when I asked my mother to make me flag as big as possible after the 4-3 (semi-final) win over Germany.”

Italy lost that final 4-1 to Brazil.

Italy are third in Group C with three points after a 2-0 win over Malta and a 2-1 loss to England, who are top with 12 points from four games.

Spalletti has omitted some big names for his first squad, with Mancini’s captain Leonardo Bonucci, Marco Verratti and Jorginho all left out of the 29-man group announced on Friday evening.

Veteran Bonucci has represented his country 121 times and was key to Italy’s triumph at the last Euro, played in 2021.

The 36-year-old signed for Union Berlin on Friday after being frozen out by Juventus.

Midfielders Jorginho and Verratti were also stars of the team which became national heroes by beating England in the Euro final at Wembley, but Spalletti says they have been left out due to lack of playing time.

“We need players who have international experience, but it was unthinkable to pick Marco Verratti and Jorginho given the amount of playing and preparation time they’ve had,” said Spalletti.

“The players have to be happy to wear the jersey, it’s a very important jersey which has a great history. I want to see pride.”

Spalletti is still under contract with Napoli until June next year after deciding to take a season-long sabbatical following his Serie A title triumph with the club last term.

Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis, who allowed Spalletti to step aside, is demanding compensation of three million euros ($3.3 million) to release his former coach from his contract.

“Lawyers are working on it,” said Spalletti.

“I hope that we will find a solution which satisfies both parties.”