Next Italian coach Prandelli faces challenges
Italy's fourth World Cup title is a faded memory, buried beneath the rubble of a flop of historic proportions, and it will be the challenge Cesare Prandelli faces.
The Azzurri's performance in South Africa was so dismal that soccer federation president Giancarlo Abete has called it a "structural crisis."
"We all know the importance of football in our country and we've disappointed tens of millions of fans," Abete said Friday. "We have to be realists. These are the facts. We need to reflect on the structural crisis of Italian football."
Never before had Italy finished last in an opening group. It did on Thursday after a 3-2 loss to Slovakia, which advanced along with Paraguay from Group E. Italy had never exited a World Cup without winning a match, but it had only a loss and two draws this time.
Marcelo Lippi, who coached the Azzurri to the 2006 championship, is being replaced by Prandelli in a previously planned move.
"We've got to develop a strategy to start over. This problem didn't begin yesterday," Abete said. "It's been going on for a while. We have the duty to start over."
Nine players on Italy's squad were 30 or over, led by 36-year-old captain Cannavaro, and Prandelli will be charged with a major overhaul.
"Prandelli was chosen for his skills at working with younger players," Abete said. "And it is noteworthy that we're signing him to a four-year deal. We're looking ahead long-term."
Abete lamented the large number of foreign players in Serie A, referring to how Inter Milan won this year's Champions League without a single Italian player in its starting lineup.
"These problems don't involve just Italian football, it's a Europe-wide problem," Abete said. "We don't have enough players with international experience."
Abete said he would put a priority on developing younger players and improving relationships with the country's clubs, coaches and youth programs.
"The European Union and UEFA have also got to realize what the problem is, because if we can't develop this sport better, the risks won't affect just one or two federations but all the European teams," he said. "We've already seen how much the European powers have struggled at this World Cup and how well the South Americans are doing."
"Prandelli is very good, but Italy doesn't have much material to offer," he said. "He's going to have to rebuild with all young players like Spain did."
The biggest problems are in attack.
Alberto Gilardino started at center forward in the opening two games, but didn't create a single scoring chance. Still, Prandelli will likely try to get the 27-year-old striker back in form, having coached him successfully at both Parma and Fiorentina.
Also 27, Fabio Quagliarella only played the second half against Slovakia, but produced more in those 45 minutes than any other forward did over three games. He scored once and had another goal waved off for the slightest of offside calls.
After the elimination, Quagliarella was the most distraught of all, and had to be escorted off the pitch in tears.
"We tried to a console the younger players," midfielder Gennaro Gattuso said. "I told some of them, 'We're leaving and the Azzurri jersey is yours now: always treat it with pride.'"