Italy interim coach Franco Smith has named his first squad as he assesses his options ahead of the Six Nations, with Alberto Sgarbi recalled after a six-year absence.

Smith took charge after Conor O'Shea stepped down following Italy's Rugby World Cup campaign in Japan.

With Italy having taken home the wooden spoon from the last four editions of the Six Nations, former Cheetahs coach Smith has a tough task on his hands.

The most intriguing name in his first squad, which includes 35 players, is Benetton Treviso centre Sgarbi, who last appeared for his country in 2014.

"In the squad we have a mix of experienced and young players who want to establish themselves on the international rugby scene," said Smith, who also named uncapped trio Danilo Fischetti, Niccolo Cannone and Michelangelo Biondelli in his selection.

"Everyone's contribution from the start will be fundamental in order to better prepare for the debut in an increasingly competitive and exciting tournament."

Italy begin this year's Six Nations campaign away to reigning champions Wales on February 1.

Nicolo Zaniolo is set to miss Italy's Euro 2020 campaign after Roma confirmed he suffered a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament during Sunday's 2-1 defeat to Juventus.

Azzurri boss Roberto Mancini was looking on from the stands at the Stadio Olimpico when Zaniolo was withdrawn in the 36th minute in obvious pain after a challenge from Juve defender Matthijs de Ligt.

The attacking midfielder beat four Juve players during a brilliant run that started near his own penalty area, but De Ligt - himself on for the injured Merih Demiral - stepped out and brought him down with a body check that earned a booking.

After the Serie A match, Roma tweeted to confirm Zaniolo would require surgery.

"Following the injury suffered during tonight’s game, Nicolo Zaniolo underwent medical assessments that confirmed the rupture of the ACL in his right knee, along with some damage to the meniscus," the statement read.

"Zaniolo will undergo surgery on Monday."

The 20-year-old made his debut for Italy last March and opened his international account with a brace in the 9-1 rout of Armenia two months ago.

Zaniolo scored four times in 18 Serie A outings this season, along with two further strikes during the group stage of the Europa League.

 

Nicolo Zaniolo is set to miss Italy's Euro 2020 campaign after Roma confirmed he suffered a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament during Sunday's 2-1 defeat to Juventus.

Nicolo Zaniolo was taken off on a cart after suffering a serious-looking injury in front of Italy coach Roberto Mancini during Roma's Serie A clash with Juventus on Sunday.

The 20-year-old had his head in his hands as he was withdrawn 36 minutes in after injuring his left leg when Juve defender Matthijs de Ligt halted his progress with a foul on the edge of the penalty area.

Zaniolo had beaten four Juve players during a brilliant run which started near his own penalty area, but De Ligt - himself on for the injured Merih Demiral - stepped out and brought him down with a body check that earned the centre-back a caution.

The Roma midfielder writhed in pain on the edge of the box and needed a cart to be helped off the field, with Mancini, watching on from the stands, wearing a concerned expression.

Zaniolo has scored twice for Italy in his five appearances and had been expected to be a key figure for Mancini during Euro 2020.

Roma were 2-0 down to Juve at the time of Zaniolo's injury having conceded twice in the opening 10 minutes.

Federico Chiesa is confident Italy will be able to compete with the strongest teams at Euro 2020.

Italy have been drawn alongside Turkey, Wales and Switzerland in Group A and will face each of them at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.

The Azzurri won all 10 of their qualifying matches and are unbeaten in 14 games since losing 1-0 to Portugal in the Nations League in September 2018.

Chiesa, who scored his first senior international goal in a 9-1 thrashing of Armenia last November, acknowledged there will be plenty of competition at Euro 2020 but backed Italy to make an impact at the tournament.

"There are a lot of strong sides. France who won the 2018 World Cup are really strong, Portugal with Cristiano Ronaldo, so it's going to be really tough to win it," Chiesa told Fiorentina's website.

"I feel we are a very strong side, we have a fantastic coach. Roberto Mancini taught us a lot in the last period. He taught us how to play [with] a lot of possession, a lot of intensity.

"We saw our game develop a lot and that was showed by the results we got. Our qualification with all the victories we had in the group showed we are a really strong team and we can do a lot at the Euros."

He added: "Getting called up for Euro 2020 would be a great achievement but I have to earn it through my performances with Fiorentina."

Fiorentina have endured a difficult campaign and return from the mid-season break with Giuseppe Iachini at the helm, having sacked Vincenzo Montella after a 4-1 loss to Roma on December 20.

The Viola sit 15th in Serie A, three points clear of the relegation zone.

"The new coach came in and wasted no time in teaching us his tactics and how he wants us to play," said Chiesa.

"He's upped the tempo in training because he believes in hard work. I do too, and hopefully we can have a good second half of the season."

Buoyed by two wins from two as Everton manager, Carlo Ancelotti begins the new decade back in the division where he was the first title-winner of the previous one.

Tactical thought in the 2010s was dominated by the Dutch-Catalan school's influence, as Pep Guardiola refined Johan Cruyff's vision to stunning effect with his dominant Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City sides, throwing in some South American seasoning as a Marcelo Bielsa disciple.

Guardiola, of course, has a more than worthy adversary in Jurgen Klopp, who looks to be at the beginning of his own imperial period at Liverpool. The gegenpressing master has refined his high-octane approach to find something utterly relentless – more motorik krautrock than heavy metal football.

Whenever major clubs make a managerial appointment nowadays, talk of "philosophy" and an overarching vision are rarely far away. This is the age of high-concept football.

Amid all of this, despite Serie A losing some of its lustre and the Azzurri humiliatingly failing to make the 2018 World Cup, Italian coaching remains something of a gold standard.

Ancelotti was the first of four of his compatriots to win the Premier League in the 2010s. Roberto Mancini lifted Manchester City's first English title for 44 years in 2011-12, leaving in place foundations Guardiola has built handsomely upon.

Mancini is now in charge of an Italy side that has not looked in such good health since Antonio Conte's time at the helm. Former Juventus boss Conte left after Euro 2016 and promptly won the Premier League with Chelsea. In doing so, he followed a countryman into the winner's enclosure.

Claudio Ranieri's 2015-16 march to glory with Leicester City stands apart as the outstanding club football achievement of the past 10 years.

A mix of football cultures

Ranieri and ex-Bayern Munich boss Ancelotti have also worked with distinction in Spain and France, while Mancini's route back to home came via stints at Galatasaray and Zenit.

All four men have some similarities in their approaches but do not speak of a uniform style. They are testament to the flexible and shape-shifting qualities of an ingrained Italian tradition.

"We have to make a mix of our football culture with the cultures of other European countries," said Renzo Ulivieri, the director of the Scuola Allenatori – Italy's coaching school.

"I think that our best quality is we are not closed, but we are open to other football cultures. We mix our culture with others."

Omnisport spoke to Ulivieri during a visit to the Italian Football Federation (FIGC)'s Coverciano headquarters, which was bathed in the glow of late autumn sunshine last month.

A picturesque location around five kilometres east of Florence, nestled below Monte Cereci where Leonardo da Vinci tested his flying machine half a century ago, Coverciano is where the latest generation of Italian coaches seek to take their country's proud tradition of tactical excellence to new heights.

Along with being home to all of Italy's national squads and a treasure trove of a museum celebrating each of their four World Cup triumphs, Coverciano is a campus that exists as football's equivalent to Harvard and Oxford.

Ulvieri oversees the UEFA Pro License course, already known as Il Master before it took on the standards of the highest coaching qualification set by European football's governing body.

Back to school with Pirlo and Toni

A Coverciano coaching education still stands apart. Alongside intensive tactical and technical elements, psychology, communication and sports medicine form part of the studies.

Andrea Pirlo, Luca Toni, Thiago Motta and Walter Samuel were among the 2019-20 intake, who found themselves trading free afternoons following training for eight-hour classroom days.

The course concludes with a set of oral exams and the completion of a detailed tactical thesis, which students present in the same oak-panelled room where we sat down with Ulivieri, resplendent in a federation tracksuit and speaking via an interpreter with a twinkle-eyed enthusiasm that belied his 78 years.

"It's a sort of obsessive thing for me," he said, when discussing the adaptability that has helped Italian coaches continue to thrive throughout a fast-changing period.

"A football coach has to arrange things with the players that he has. Being able to arrange is the main topic because, for the names like Marco Rossi, the coach of Hungary, it is more difficult to be a coach in these countries, instead of being a coach in France, in England.

"Italian people are a population who travel so much, so they have to arrange to go in other cultures. I want to explain to [the students] what will be their future life.

"There are some coaches, for example, who make a good season and then the other seasons are not so good. These are coaches who have not adjusted their football and arranged for the players they have.

"The future of football will be with a very big flexibility in tactics, because the tactics of a football team do not only change from match to match but also within the same match. Now we are seeing this. In future, football teams will play in two or three different ways."

A passion for tactics

Ulivieri's longevity is evidence he practiced what he preached.

Starting as an amateur coach in the mid-1960s in his native Tuscany – a region he still proudly proclaims to be a hotbed, with the exploits of Massimiliano Allegri, Maurizio Sarri and others backing up the point – Ulivieri boasts a bulging Serie A CV that features spells in charge of a young Mancini at Sampdoria, Cagliari, Parma, Napoli, Torino and Roberto Baggio's renaissance at Bologna.

His last top division post was with Reggina in 2007-08, although the obsession remains.

Alongside his day job at Coverciano, Ulivieri continues to coach women's Serie C side Pontedera, where he is still keen to throw around the odd bold tactical scheme.

"With the team, we are in a low level but I am still a coach because I have the passion and I want to try something. I want to try some tactical concepts on the field," he explained.

"Recently, I was speaking and I told them we will make a tactical approach that no team is doing."

Asked to elaborate, Ulivieri eagerly took Omnisport's notepad and sketched out a sort of 4-2-4 formation, featuring a rhombus of forwards where width would be provided by the central midfielders overlapping into wide areas.

A discussion of Sheffield United's successful adaptation to the Premier League followed, with Ulivieri fascinated to learn of Chris Wilder's roving wide centre-backs.

"I will study it," he exclaimed, before sounding a note of caution for Wilder and his contemporaries.

"In the past, tactical innovation could last four years, now maybe one year. We have to change always."

Back to the future

Coverciano's latest intake studied England's 1966 World Cup winners towards the end of 2019, with Ulivieri highlighting the movements of Roger Hunt, Martin Peters and Bobby Charlton as useful ploys against zonal defences of the modern day.

"Sometimes the past comes back," he said. "When Guardiola says my first forward is the space, before Guardiola was England with Bobby Charlton and the great Hungary team before that.

"Ideas in football come back always. We have to know everything. We have to know the past but we have to guess the future. Guessing the future is our main topic."

So, what will that future look like?

"More flexible," Ulivieri reiterated. "We will work for principles, not for schemes. We see this today in the big teams with big players.

"In the future, we will have players who are able to do many things, not just one. These things [Sheffield United's tactics] would be unthinkable with the players of 20 years ago. These players have to be athletic.

"In the future, we will have players who will be able to play here, there and in all parts of the field."

Thanks to their impeccable education and tradition, if feels safe to assume Coverciano's next alumni will lead these versatile stars with distinction, leaving their marks all over the 2020s as their predecessors did in the decade just passed.

England will face Italy in the first of four warm-up matches for Euro 2020, with Gareth Southgate's side set to host the Azzurri on March 27.

The Three Lions secured qualification for next year's finals in style with a 7-0 thrashing of Montenegro in November, before rounding off their campaign by defeating Kosovo 4-0.

Southgate's side will face Croatia, victors in the 2018 World Cup semi-final meeting between the teams, and the Czech Republic - who inflicted England's only defeat of the qualification campaign - in Group D, with Scotland, Israel, Norway or Serbia set to complete the pool.

Four-time world champions Italy have won 11 straight games under Roberto Mancini, their longest run of consecutive victories, and will play Turkey, Switzerland and Wales in Group A, with all of the Azzurri's group matches to be played in Rome.

England have also lined up friendlies against Denmark on March 31, Austria on June 2 and Romania five days later, with their Euros campaign set to kick-off at Wembley on June 14.

Roberto Mancini has warned Italy not to underestimate the less glamorous teams joining them in Group A at Euro 2020.

The Azzurri will face Turkey, Switzerland and Wales next June after receiving a relatively kind draw.

Mancini's men will be expected to reach the knockout rounds after maintaining a perfect record through qualifying, the only nation alongside Belgium to accomplish this feat.

But in 2016 semi-finalists Wales, a talented Turkey team and a Switzerland side boasting the best FIFA ranking of the four, Mancini found hidden demons.

"I don't think the group will be as simple as some are saying," the former Inter head coach told Radio Anch'io.

"They are annoying teams with nothing to lose. They all have good players and a lot of young players.

"Switzerland know us well and are always annoying to face, Wales can be a surprise with players in the Premier League and Turkey took four points from France in their qualifying group.

"These are teams that are difficult to deal with, but we are optimistic."

Euro 2020 will mark Italy's first appearance at a major tournament in four years, following the shock failure to reach the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Mancini confirmed the squad he intends to take is already largely settled.

He said: "I believe the group is now outlined, but obviously if an extraordinary young man, a Paolo Rossi or [Salvatore] Schillaci, were to emerge in the next six months, we would be very pleased."

The last three European winners of major tournaments will play in the same pool at Euro 2020, after France, Portugal and Germany were all drawn together

Germany and France - victors at the respective 2014 and 2018 World Cups - will take on reigning European champions Portugal and a play-off winner in Group G.

Croatia, runners-up at last year's World Cup, will renew acquaintances with England, the side they beat in the semi-finals.

Here is the draw in full for next year's event, with four places in the finals still to be determined by the four path-winners in March's play-offs.

 

Group A: Turkey, Italy, Wales, Switzerland

Group B: Denmark, Finland, Belgium, Russia.

Group C: Netherlands, Ukraine, Austria, play-off winner from Path D (Georgia, Belarus, North Macedonia or Kosovo) or Romania if they win Path A.

Group D: England, Croatia, Czech Republic, play-off winner from Path C (Scotland, Israel, Norway or Serbia)

Group E: Spain, Sweden, Poland, play-off winner from Path B (Slovakia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Northern Ireland or Republic of Ireland)

Group F: Germany, France, Portugal, play-off winner from Path A (Iceland, Bulgaria, Hungary) or winner of Path D (Georgia, Belarus, North Macedonia or Kosovo) if Romania win Path A.

Holders Portugal will face world champions France and fellow heavyweights Germany in a daunting Group F at Euro 2020.

Saturday's draw in Bucharest pitted Fernando Santos' men and their talismanic captain Cristiano Ronaldo against the winners of the two World Cups either side of their Euro 2016 triumph.

It means Didier Deschamps' Bleus will have an opportunity for revenge after Portugal beat them on home soil at the Stade de France to lift the trophy.

The nation with the dubious pleasure of joining them is still to be determined. Iceland, Bulgaria or Hungary would claim the fourth spot if they progress through their play-off route in Path A.

However, if Romania are victorious in Path A, they will go into Group C with Netherlands, Ukraine and Austria.

In permutations that underline the convoluted and criticised format, one of Georgia, Belarus, North Macedonia or Kosovo from play-off Path B would enter Group F if Romania qualify. Otherwise, the winner of Path B goes into Group C.

Italy open the tournament, which will take place across 12 host cities, when they entertain Turkey in Rome on June 12. Wales and Switzerland are also in Group A.

England and Croatia renew acquaintances at Wembley in Group D – Gareth Southgate's men having been sunk by a Mario Mandzukic winner in the semi-finals of Russia 2018 before progressing to the Nations League Finals at the expense of Zlatko Dalic's team.

There is the possibility of an all-British encounter if Scotland prevail from their play-off path alongside Israel, Norway and Serbia, while Czech Republic will meet England again in the finals having traded victories with the Three Lions during qualification.

Group B is the second group not waiting to see how play-off cards fall, with the world's number-one ranked team Belgium lining up alongside Denmark, Finland and Russia.

Spain are aiming to make it three European titles in four attempts after securing glory in 2008 and 2012.

They head up Group C, where the winner of the play-off route including Bosnia-Herzegovina, Northern Ireland, Slovakia and the Republic of Ireland will round out the line-up alongside Sweden and Poland.

The Euro 2020 play-offs take place during next March's international break.

The last three European winners of major tournaments will play in the same pool at Euro 2020, after France, Portugal and Germany were all drawn together

Germany and France - victors at the respective 2014 and 2018 World Cups - will take on reigning European champions Portugal and a play-off winner in Group G.

Croatia, runners-up at last year's World Cup, will renew acquaintances with England, the side they beat in the semi-finals.

Here is the draw in full for next year's event, with four places in the finals still to be determined by the four path-winners in March's play-offs.

 

Group A: Turkey, Italy, Wales, Switzerland

Group B: Denmark, Finland, Belgium, Russia.

Group C: Netherlands, Ukraine, Austria, play-off winner from Path D (Georgia, Belarus, North Macedonia or Kosovo) or Romania if they win Path A.

Group D: England, Croatia, Czech Republic, play-off winner from Path C (Scotland, Israel, Norway or Serbia)

Group E: Spain, Sweden, Poland, play-off winner from Path B (Slovakia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Northern Ireland or Republic of Ireland)

Group F: Germany, France, Portugal, play-off winner from Path A (Iceland, Bulgaria, Hungary) or winner of Path D (Georgia, Belarus, North Macedonia or Kosovo) if Romania win Path A.

Franco Smith will be at the Italy helm for the 2020 Six Nations as the Italian Rugby Federation (FIR) continues its search for a permanent successor to Conor O'Shea.

Irishman O'Shea stepped down last week after over three years in the role, with Italy having failed to advance through a Rugby World Cup pool that included reigning champions New Zealand and eventual winners South Africa.

Wins over Namibia and Canada gave them some cause for cheer, although Italy were denied a meeting with the All Blacks – and therefore any shot at qualifying for the knockout stage – by the untimely arrival of Typhoon Hagibis. 

The FIR confirmed the make-up of the nation's coaching staff for the international window in February to March of next year, with former Springbok Smith leading a team that also includes Giampiero De Carli and Marius Goosen.

Smith, who was most recently with the Cheetahs in Super Rugby, will be out to avoid a fifth consecutive wooden spoon for Italy at the Six Nations.

A new coach is expected to be appointed by July 1.

Roberto Mancini is unsure if rivals are worried about Italy ahead of Euro 2020, but feels they may prefer to avoid playing his side at the tournament.

Italy completed a perfect qualifying campaign in Group J with a 9-1 demolition of Armenia in Palermo on Monday.

While their impressive performances are sure to see them considered among the favourites at next year's showpiece tournament, Mancini feels other nations are ahead of Italy in their growth.

"I don't know if they are worried or not," the Italy coach told a news conference.

"I think they are stronger because they are one step ahead with their plan. France started some years ago, they reached a Euro final and won the World Cup. They are young and I think they are one of the strongest teams. Spain the same.

"Belgium in the last five, six years produced a lot of outstanding talents. Then England.

"All those teams stared earlier. Italy has a great history. I don't think other teams will face Italy easily.

"Maybe they are not scared, buy if they could choose would face another opponent instead of Italy."

Ciro Immobile and Nicolo Zaniolo scored braces against Armenia, while Nicolo Barella, Alessio Romagnoli, Jorginho, Riccardo Orsolini and Federico Chiesa were also on the scoresheet.

Mancini praised his players for their improvement and hopes there is more to come from Italy at Euro 2020.

"These are all young lads who are improving game by game. Playing at international level brings experience, they've got the quality, it's just a matter of time," he told Rai Sport.

"We’ll see what happens at Euro 2020. We'd never won all 10 games in a qualifying group, we've got six months to prepare for the championship and unfortunately I will have to leave some behind, as I can only bring 23 players.

"If we can continue like this, that would be great."

The draw for the final tournament will be held on November 30.

Roberto Mancini's rampant Italy broke more records as they maintained their 100 per cent points return in Euro 2020 qualifying with a 9-1 thrashing of Armenia in Palermo.

The Azzurri had long since booked their place in next year's finals and last week defeated Bosnia-Herzegovina for a 10th consecutive win for the first time in their history.

There was no slowing Italy in their final Group J game, though, as they turned on the style to end the campaign with 10 victories from 10.

An 11th straight win in all saw seven different Italy goalscorers in a match for the first time, as Ciro Immobile and Nicolo Zaniolo each netted twice.

Zaniolo, debutant Riccardo Orsolini and Federico Chiesa all notched their first goals for their country, with Nicolo Barella, Alessio Romagnoli and Jorginho also on target in a stunning success.

Leonardo Bonucci believes Italy are not yet at the same level as Spain, France, Germany and England, but the defender feels they can reach that standard.

Italy won a record 10th straight match with a 3-0 victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina in Euro 2020 qualifying on Friday and host Armenia on Monday.

Despite their run, Bonucci said Italy – who claimed their only European Championship in 1968 – still had progress to make.

"We will reach the level of the top teams in Europe but we still need to improve to compete against those teams who have achieved something important in recent years," the Juventus defender told a news conference.

"We are not at the level of Spain, France, Germany and England because of our lack of experience.

"They have a lot of world-class players and we don't, but we have all the qualities and the potential to reach that level."

The great Arrigo Sacchi recently hailed Italy's performances under head coach Roberto Mancini, who took over after the nation failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

Mancini – whose side have won all nine of their Group J qualifiers ahead of facing Armenia – was thankful for the praise and said he wanted Italy to develop a winning mentality.

"Thanks to Arrigo Sacchi for the compliments, it is such a pleasure to receive nice words from someone like him," he said.

"I was not expecting 10 wins, but of course I was expecting qualification.

"Winning games was not our priority at the beginning. Our main task was to do something new and different to make our fans happy and passionate again.

"Then, we wanted to give our players a winning mentality, because this is the best way to achieve success."

Page 1 of 6
© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.