How a Resurrected Italy Might Line Up at the 2022 World Cup

Italy will not be at the World Cup finals for the first time in 60 years, when somewhat fittingly the tournament was hosted by Sweden.

The turgid draw with the Swedes at San Siro on Monday night was the last hurrah for some of the finest a generation had to offer.

There is now rebuilding work to be done for Gli Azzurri as they look ahead to life after Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini and Daniele De Rossi.

Here’s a very early and very hypothetical look at how the four-time winners could line up at the next possible World Cup in 2022…

1. GK: Gianluigi Donnarumma

Age at time of 2022 World Cup: 23

Groomed to succeed Buffon ever since his debut for AC Milan at the age of 16, Donnarumma’s time for Gli Azzurri starts in earnest now.

He has some mighty big gloves to fill but, but the 18-year-old has the makings of a world class stopper and has had Buffon as a mentor since his senior Italy debut last year. 

Whether he will still be in Milan (Real Madrid and Juventus were both linked during his contractual standoff last summer) by the time the Qatar tournament rolls around remains to be seen.

Other option(s): Mattia Perin (28)

2. CB: Daniele Rugani

Age at time of 2022 World Cup: 27

From Buffon’s successor to Leonardo Bonucci’s. 23-year-old Rugani is finally coming into his own at Juventus and has benefitted heavily from Bonucci’s sale to Milan in the summer.

He is, much like his predecessor, tall, technically gifted and while not very quick he is an astute anticipator.

His honours including two Scudetti and one inclusion in Serie A Team of the Year are likely to increase many fold by 2022.

Other option(s): Leonardo Bonucci (35), Alessandro Bastoni (23)

3. CB: Alessio Romagnoli

Age at time of 2022 World Cup: 27

AC Milan centre back Romagnoli might have already been well into double figures in national team caps if it wasn’t for the enduring presences of Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli.

Instead the Roma graduate has had to bide his time for a chance with Italy’s seniors, despite being a regular for Milan and Sampdoria since the 2013/14 season.

Likely to feature on the left side of a back three, Romagnoli has drawn comparisons with the legendary Alessandro Nesta for his completeness as a defender and attacking threat.

Other option(s): Filippo Romagna (25)

4. CB: Mattia Caldara

Age at time of 2022 World Cup: 28

A fixture of the U21 Italy side that reached the 2017 European Championship finals, Caldara was snapped up by Juventus last winter for a fee that could rise to €25m and loaned back to Atalanta until 2018.

The cultured young defender possesses all the necessary qualities of the archetypal Italian defender – positioning, coolness and a threat from set pieces and looks a likely successor to the now-retired Andrea Barzagli at international level.

Other option(s): Alex Ferrari (27), Elio Capradossi (26)

5. RWB: Andrea Conti

Age at time of 2022 World Cup: 28

A major player in Gian Piero Gasperini’s Atalanta side that finished fourth in 2016/17, Conti secured a €24m move to AC Milan this summer and looked set for a very bright future, until a ruptured ACL in September stunted his progress.

His pace and crossing threat make him a typically modern wing back, but eight Serie A goals for Atalanta last season means he also carries a surprising goal threat himself.

If he recovers well from injury, Conti is likely to be Italy’s starting wing back for years to come.

Other option(s): Davide Calabria (25), Mattia De Sciglio (29)

6. LWB: Leonardo Spinazzola

Age at time of 2022 World Cup: 29

Less of a shoo-in than some of the others on the team sheet, 24-year-old Spinazzola is currently on his seventh loan spell from parent club Juventus, and is contracted to Atalanta until the summer of 2018.

He earned his international debut in a friendly victory over the Netherlands this year thanks to his form with his latest loan club, but has since been outspoken in his desire to return to Turin.

If and when he does return to Juventus for a shot at the first team, ousting Alex Sandro may prove the most difficult task of his career and could define his prospects at international level.

Other option(s): Antonio Barreca (27)

7. CM: Manuel Locatelli

Age at time of 2022 World Cup: 24

A regular at various youth levels Locatelli is yet to make the step up to the senior team, but the fallout of the failed 2018 qualification campaign will likely see the 19-year-old blooded in as several of the old guard step aside.

A versatile talent, the midfielder who has been with AC Milan since the age of 11, is both a strong ball winner and able to dictate the tempo of a game. 

He has made just one start for under-performing Milan this season, but has been part of successful youth Italy youth teams including the U19 squad that finished runners up to France in 2016.

Other option(s): Lorenzo Pellegrini (26), Marco Benassi (27)

8. CM: Marco Verratti

Age at time of 2022 World Cup: 29

While it will be sad not to have the Paris Saint-Germain playmaker in Russia next summer, Verratti should still be in his peak at the time of the Qatar World Cup.

His passing range, vision and work rate have seen him grow into the role as Andrea Pirlo’s successor and he could well be captain by the next tournament, as one of the most experienced players in the group. 

While the regista, who made his senior team debut way back in 2012, may be used to fill the Pirlo shaped hole in midfield, matching his success is another thing altogether.

Other option(s): Roberto Gagliardini (28), Jorginho (30)

9. AM: Federico Bernardeschi

Age at time of 2022 World Cup: 28

The elegant attacker was thrown on as a last ditch measure on Monday night but was unable to prevent Italy’s fate.

Bernardeschi has had a slightly slow start to life at Juventus following a big money summer move from Fiorentina. However, despite earning just two Serie A starts to date, he has as many goals and assists.

Deployed occasionally as a wing back, he will likely earn his place in on the right side of a front three at both Juve and Italy eventually.

Other option(s): Riccardo Orsolini (25)

10. AM: Lorenzo Insigne

Age at time of 2022 World Cup: 31

Many (including Daniele De Rossi) were baffled by Gian Piero Ventura’s decision to leave Insigne out of the playoff second leg, as Italy toiled in finding a way past the Sweden back line.

26-year-old Insigne, who is top for key passes in Europe’s top five leagues this season, will now not get a chance to go to the World Cup in his prime years.  

The Napoli forward has been in scintillating form for Napoli over the last two and half seasons and should have the national team attack built around him for the near future. If that happens and his trajectory with Napoli (or beyond) remains the same, he will be a key figure in 2022.

Other option(s): Domenico Berardi (27), Moise Kean (22)

11. ST: Patrick Cutrone

Age at time of 2022 World Cup: 24

Despite all the money spent this summer, Vincenzo Montella chose to line up against Crotone at the start of the Serie A season with teenage academy product Cutrone up front alone.

The muscular Como-born striker immediately repaid the faith with a goal in his first senior start.  Despite featuring more regularly from the bench in recent times, Cutrone has another goal to his name in the league and one in the Europa League too, as he challenges the likes of established stars Nikola Kalinic and Andre Silva for places.

He has been a regular for Italy since U15 level and has four in four for the Luigi Di Biagio’s U21s.

Other option(s): Andrea Belotti (29), Andrea Pinamonti (23), Federico Chiesa (24)


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