Roberto Baggio has labelled Italy not qualifying automatically for the World Cup for their Euro 2020 triumph as "madness".

Italy were penalty shoot-out victors against England in the Euro 2020 last July, but followed that up with World Cup play-off qualifying defeat against North Macedonia in March.

That meant the Azzurri have failed to qualify for two straight World Cups, having missed out on both Russia in 2018 and Qatar four years later.

Roberto Mancini's side met the Copa America winners Argentina on Wednesday in a match between the champions of European and South American football, but were thoroughly outclassed in a 3-0 defeat.

Argentina displayed the gulf in class between the two sides, with some suggesting Lionel Scaloni's side could be favourites for the World Cup in November.

Scaloni declared in the build-up to the 'Finalissima' that Italy deserved a World Cup spot, and Baggio echoed those sentiments by suggesting the Azzurri should have been offered automatic qualification.

"The biggest shame is that Italy didn't go straight to Qatar having won the European Championship," Italy legend Baggio said on Thursday, as quoted by La Gazzetta dello Sport.

"It is scandalous, it seems crazy to me. Will these guys have earned a reward or not? If I had been in their place I don't really know how I would have reacted...

"It's the worst thing to accept, because in a 90-minute match anything can happen, one action goes wrong and you stay at home?"

Baggio was also quick to point towards the difference in quality between Argentina and Italy at Wembley Stadium.

"Scaloni's team has great talents, but the Azzurri have suffered greatly from being eliminated from the World Cup, the psychological backlash it was enormous," he added.

"The level of calmness of the two teams on the pitch was not comparable."

Italy will hope to somewhat make amends for the Argentina loss and World Cup failure when they host Germany in their Nations League opener on Saturday.

What do Dusan Vlahovic, Dodi Lukebakio and Gaetan Laborde all have in common?

As of this moment, not much – aside from having been touted as the next Newcastle United signing. But if Vlahovic gets a goal for Juventus against Fiorentina on Wednesday, he will join Wolfsburg's Lukebakio (who joined on loan from Hertha Berlin) and Rennes' Laborde (who signed from Montpellier) as the only players in Europe's top five leagues to score for and against the same team this season.

Vlahovic said his feelings were "a bit mixed" as he contemplated facing the Viola at the Artemio Franchi, where he spent four years after joining as an 18-year-old from Partizan. "It's a bit strange," he told DAZN, to prepare for a game against the team for whom he scored 33 times in Serie A in 2021, equalling the competition's calendar-year record set by Cristiano Ronaldo – the man he was bought to replace in Turin.

The sentiment among Fiorentina's faithful will be a bit more, well, partisan. Vlahovic's January transfer, completed on his 22nd birthday for an initial fee of €70million, sparked levels of fury among the fan base arguably not seen since the Roberto Baggio riots of the early 1990s. Fiorentina ultras vented their anger not just at the player, but at the club itself, lambasting president Rocco Commisso for doing deals with "the ultimate evil" after previously promising never to sell their best players to the hated Bianconeri.

Meanwhile, Vlahovic has got on with the day job of scoring goals, and with three in his past two games, Juve are beginning to hope of a surprise late challenge for the Champions League and Serie A titles. Before then comes the small matter of a Coppa Italia semi-final in Florence, and the chance for Vlahovic to take a step closer to a first trophy outside Serbia by knocking out his old employers.

And he wouldn't be the first Juve player to return to haunt Fiorentina...

Roberto Baggio

Baggio isn't the sole reason Fiorentina don't like Juventus, but ask someone to explain the rivalry and his name will likely come up pretty quickly.

The pony-tailed posterboy of Italian football developed into a star in his five years in Tuscany even before his rise to global fame at the 1990 World Cup on home soil. It was in that same year that Juve signed him from Fiorentina for an approximate fee of £8million, smashing the world transfer record and sparking furious Fiorentina fans to take to the streets in protest.

Baggio claimed he never really wanted to leave and, when he returned to face them in Bianconeri colours on April 7, he refused to take a penalty ostensibly out of concern that goalkeeper Gianmatteo Mareggini would know where he would put it. Luigi Di Biagio stepped up instead, missed, and Juve lost. Picking up a Fiorentina scarf didn't help Baggio to endear himself to the Juve faithful, either.

Still, over the next five years, Baggio would fire them to Serie A, Coppa Italia and UEFA Cup glory and become the first Italian since Paolo Rossi in 1982 to win the Ballon d'Or (it would be 13 more years before another, Fabio Cannavaro, did the same).

Giorgio Chiellini

If Baggio's transfer sparked a riot, Giorgio Chiellini's permanent move to Juve in 2005 prompted more of a quiet grumble. He spent 2004-05 with the Viola after they and Juve reached a co-ownership deal, so it was always anticipated the suits in Turin might stump up the full amount for his registration rights.

Of course, watching Chiellini win nine Scudetti, five Coppa Italia crowns and Euro 2020 as part of a glittering Azzurri career has left plenty of Fiorentina fans with an unshakeable sense of 'what if'.

In December 2005, Chiellini started against Fiorentina in a frankly unfair back four that also featured Lillian Thuram, Fabio Cannavaro and Gianluca Zambrotta, with Juve claiming a 2-1 win thanks to Mauro Camoranesi's 88th-minute goal. 

He's since gone on to face Fiorentina 17 times in Serie A, losing just twice. But, more importantly, Chiellini has become a Juve great – he is just two games away from putting himself third behind Alessandro Del Piero and Gianluigi Buffon on the club's all-time appearances list.

Federico Bernardeschi

Bernardeschi may have moved out of season, but that didn't stop Fiorentina fans venting their anger in response to his €40m switch. They hung a banner outside the stadium that made their displeasure fairly clear. It read: "Who wouldn't like to spit in your face… you s***** hunchback".

His move to the Old Lady came after a something of a breakthrough season as he scored 11 times in Serie A – that was an improvement of nine from the two he'd got the previous campaign.

Unsurprisingly he was jeered and targeted by banners on his first return to Florence in February 2018, though Bernardeschi had the last laugh, curling a free-kick in as Juve won 2-0. It's fair to say he didn't abstain from celebrating, letting out a huge scream.

"I celebrated when I scored because I believe a professional should respect the fans. I've always been grateful to Fiorentina, and always will, for the way they looked after me and helped me develop, but I made a career choice and now I play for another team," he told Sky Sport Italia at the time.

But Bernardeschi's struggled to have the same kind of importance to Juve, rather being used as more of a utility and back-up player, which is reflected by the fact he's scored just eight league goals for the club.

Federico Chiesa

If Fiorentina fans are upset on Wednesday, just wait until next season when Federico Chiesa is fit again and lining up alongside Vlahovic. The pair appeared together 41 times for the Viola before Chiesa's October 2020 departure for Turin.

Chiesa, who is out for the rest of the season following damage to his anterior cruciate ligament, will be a permanent Juve player in 2022-23. For now, remarkably, he is merely on loan from Fiorentina.

Such deals that appear to favour the buying club are not uncommon in Serie A, but Fiorentina supporters could be forgiven for being furious as their club again accommodated the transfer of a star player to their bitter rivals.

Chiesa – the son of former Fiorentina forward Enrico – dazzled in his final full season in Florence, with 11 goals and six assists, and has done likewise for Juve following a slightly tricky start. At the time of his injury – before Vlahovic's arrival – he was the Bianconeri's standout performer.

Every league seems to have those teams that just produce talent on an apparently non-stop basis, before those players inevitably get picked off by the bigger boys.

In Germany, you can't move for former Schalke or Stuttgart players. There's Lyon and Monaco in France, Athletic Bilbao and Valencia in Spain, Southampton and Aston Villa in England.

In Italy, that team is probably Fiorentina, who are in the same position once again after La Viola sold star striker Dusan Vlahovic to Juventus in a €70million deal.

Stats Perform takes a look at some of the biggest names in Italian football who made a name for themselves with the team from Tuscany, and what they went on to achieve in the game.

 

Roberto Baggio

Having begun his career at Vicenza, The Divine Ponytail's move to Fiorentina saw his star rise as he spent five impressive years in the purple shirt.

However, after he helped Fiorentina to the 1990 UEFA Cup final, only to be defeated over two ill-tempered legs by their great rivals Juventus, salt was very much rubbed into the fans' wounds as the Bianconeri paid a then world-record fee to take Baggio.

Reports claimed that fans hurled bricks, chains and Molotov cocktails at Fiorentina's headquarters, and for the two days after the transfer was announced, club president Flavio Pontello took shelter in the stadium, with 50 injuries and nine arrests recorded.

Baggio would only improve his reputation further at Juve, winning the UEFA Cup in 1993, before securing a league and cup double two years later, scoring 115 goals in 200 games across five seasons before moving to Milan, where he won another Scudetto in his first year.

After being dismissed by Fabio Capello at San Siro in 1997, Baggio had an impressive season at Bologna where he scored a personal best 22 league goals, before moving back to the city of Milan with Inter.

Things did not work out at the Nerazzurri but he still went on to enjoy four final seasons in Serie A with Brescia, where he reached double figures in each campaign before retiring in 2004.

Gabriel Batistuta

There is arguably no more iconic player in Fiorentina history. A striker who football fans of a certain vintage remember banging in goals on Sunday afternoons during the nineties.

Unlike most of the players on this list, Batistuta actually spent the majority of his career at Fiorentina, staying for nine years before his big-money move to Roma.

The man affectionately known as 'Batigol' remains the club's record goalscorer with 159 goals in 198 games, though it does help his record that people like Vlahovic are usually sold before they can get anywhere near that total.

Though he had won a Coppa Italia, Batistuta wanted a Scudetto and moved to Roma in 2000 in order to get it. It was the highest fee ever paid for a player over the age of 30, a record which stood until Leonardo Bonucci moved to Milan from Juventus in 2017.

It seemed like a justified move when Batistuta scored 20 goals, including netting against his former club, on the way to winning the title in his first season in the Italian capital, but was unable to reach those heights again, scoring just 11 over the following season and a half before a loan move to Inter.

Rui Costa

The Portuguese maestro had made a name for himself at Benfica before moving to Italy in 1994 and making 230 appearances in seven years with La Viola, winning two Coppa Italia titles.

However, like Batistuta, Rui Costa was moved on for big money to try and help the club's finances, ending up at Milan for a then club-record fee of around £35m.

Rui Costa spent five years at San Siro where he won six trophies, including the Champions League in 2003 and Scudetto a year later. He moved back to Benfica in 2006 after the emergence of Kaka saw his minutes reduced.

Federico Bernardeschi

Bernardeschi came through the youth ranks at Fiorentina, with big things expected of him as he burst onto the scene after an impressive loan at Crotone in Serie B in the 2013-14 season.

During three years in the first team, Bernardeschi scored 23 goals in 93 games and registered 11 assists, which unfortunately for Viola fans saw old enemies Juve come swooping in again.

He has claimed three Serie A titles and two Coppa Italia trophies in Turin, as well as being a part of the Italy squad that won the rescheduled Euro 2020 last year.

Bernardeschi, who has scored just 11 times in 170 games for Juve, largely remains a squad player under Massimiliano Allegri, in part because of this next man...

Federico Chiesa

Another Fiorentina youth product, Chiesa had all eyes on him as soon as he broke through due to being the son of former Viola and Italy striker Enrico Chiesa.

Chiesa Jr made his first-team debut, somewhat ironically, against Juve at the age of 18, and over the next couple of years began to establish himself as the potential future of the club.

More suited to playing out wide than his father, who was a traditional central striker, Chiesa's managed 34 goals and 19 assists in 153 games at Fiorentina but it his tenacity, pace and skill that sets him apart.

That was enough to tempt – yes, you guessed it – Juve to come along and take him on a two-year loan, with an obligation to make it permanent at the end of the current campaign.

Chiesa had an impressive first season at Juve, including scoring the winning goal in the Coppa Italia final against Atalanta, before starring for Italy in their successful Euro 2020 campaign, scoring twice in seven appearances and making the team of the tournament.

He started 2021-22 in sharp form, only for a serious knee injury to end his season early.

 

There also must be honourable mentions for the likes of Luca Toni, whose emergence at Fiorentina earned him a lucrative move to Bayern Munich, and Francesco Toldo - he was sold to Inter at the same time that Costa was packed off to Milan to ease club debts.

Juan Cuadrado (now at Juventus) and Marcos Alonso were both sold to Chelsea for decent money two years apart, while Felipe Melo (Juventus), Stevan Jovetic (Manchester City) and Matias Vecino (Inter) continued Fiorentina's philosophy of buying low and selling high.

The path well-trodden out of the Stadio Artemio Franchi has often led to bigger and better things, and that bodes well for Vlahovic now that it appears he will be the next in line.

He seems to have all the tools to be the star striker this current, rather dour, edition of the Bianconeri require. Indeed, Vlahovic's 33 goals in Serie A last season matched the record set by Cristiano Ronaldo at Juve in 2020.

It might be tough to take (again) for Viola fans, but if history is anything to go by, their next hero won't be far away.

Of course, he'll probably also sign for Juve eventually, but that will just be a case of crossing the Ponte Vecchio when they come to it.

Every league seems to have those teams that just produce talent on an apparently non-stop basis, before those players inevitably get picked off by the bigger boys.

In Germany, you can't move for former Schalke or Stuttgart players. There's Lyon and Monaco in France, Athletic Bilbao and Valencia in Spain, Southampton and Aston Villa in England.

In Italy, that team is probably Fiorentina, who appear to be in the same position once again as La Viola are reportedly on the verge of selling star striker Dusan Vlahovic to Juventus for a deal believed to be in the region of €75million.

Stats Perform takes a look at some of the biggest names in Italian football who made a name for themselves with the team from Tuscany, and what they went on to achieve in the game.

 

Roberto Baggio

Having begun his career at Vicenza, The Divine Ponytail's move to Fiorentina saw his star rise as he spent five impressive years in the purple shirt.

However, after he helped Fiorentina to the 1990 UEFA Cup final, only to be defeated over two ill-tempered legs by their great rivals Juventus, salt was very much rubbed into the fans' wounds as the Bianconeri paid a then world-record fee to take Baggio.

Reports claimed that fans hurled bricks, chains and Molotov cocktails at Fiorentina's headquarters, and for the two days after the transfer was announced, club president Flavio Pontello took shelter in the stadium, with 50 injuries and nine arrests recorded.

Baggio would only improve his reputation further at Juve, winning the UEFA Cup in 1993, before securing a league and cup double two years later, scoring 115 goals in 200 games across five seasons before moving to Milan, where he won another Scudetto in his first year.

After being dismissed by Fabio Capello at San Siro in 1997, Baggio had an impressive season at Bologna where he scored a personal best 22 league goals, before moving back to the city of Milan with Inter.

Things did not work out at the Nerazzurri but he still went on to enjoy four final seasons in Serie A with Brescia, where he reached double figures in each campaign before retiring in 2004.

Gabriel Batistuta

There is arguably no more iconic player in Fiorentina history. A striker who football fans of a certain vintage remember banging in goals on Sunday afternoons during the nineties.

Unlike most of the players on this list, Batistuta actually spent the majority of his career at Fiorentina, staying for nine years before his big-money move to Roma.

The man affectionately known as 'Batigol' remains the club's record goalscorer with 159 goals in 198 games, though it does help his record that people like Vlahovic are usually sold before they can get anywhere near that total.

Though he had won a Coppa Italia, Batistuta wanted a Scudetto and moved to Roma in 2000 in order to get it. It was the highest fee ever paid for a player over the age of 30, a record which stood until Leonardo Bonucci moved to Milan from Juventus in 2017.

It seemed like a justified move when Batistuta scored 20 goals, including netting against his former club, on the way to winning the title in his first season in the Italian capital, but was unable to reach those heights again, scoring just 11 over the following season and a half before a loan move to Inter.

Rui Costa

The Portuguese maestro had made a name for himself at Benfica before moving to Italy in 1994 and making 230 appearances in seven years with La Viola, winning two Coppa Italia titles.

However, like Batistuta, Rui Costa was moved on for big money to try and help the club's finances, ending up at Milan for a then club-record fee of around £35m.

Rui Costa spent five years at San Siro where he won six trophies, including the Champions League in 2003 and Scudetto a year later. He moved back to Benfica in 2006 after the emergence of Kaka saw his minutes reduced.

Federico Bernardeschi

Bernardeschi came through the youth ranks at Fiorentina, with big things expected of him as he burst onto the scene after an impressive loan at Crotone in Serie B in the 2013-14 season.

During three years in the first team, Bernardeschi scored 23 goals in 93 games and registered 11 assists, which unfortunately for Viola fans saw old enemies Juve come swooping in again.

He has claimed three Serie A titles and two Coppa Italia trophies in Turin, as well as being a part of the Italy squad that won the rescheduled Euro 2020 last year.

Bernardeschi, who has scored just 11 times in 170 games for Juve, largely remains a squad player under Massimiliano Allegri, in part because of this next man...

Federico Chiesa

Another Fiorentina youth product, Chiesa had all eyes on him as soon as he broke through due to being the son of former Viola and Italy striker Enrico Chiesa.

Chiesa Jr made his first-team debut, somewhat ironically, against Juve at the age of 18, and over the next couple of years began to establish himself as the potential future of the club.

More suited to playing out wide than his father, who was a traditional central striker, Chiesa's managed 34 goals and 19 assists in 153 games at Fiorentina but it his tenacity, pace and skill that sets him apart.

That was enough to tempt – yes, you guessed it – Juve to come along and take him on a two-year loan, with an obligation to make it permanent at the end of the current campaign.

Chiesa had an impressive first season at Juve, including scoring the winning goal in the Coppa Italia final against Atalanta, before starring for Italy in their successful Euro 2020 campaign, scoring twice in seven appearances and making the team of the tournament.

He started 2021-22 in sharp form, only for a serious knee injury to end his season early.

 

There also must be honourable mentions for the likes of Luca Toni, whose emergence at Fiorentina earned him a lucrative move to Bayern Munich, and Francesco Toldo - he was sold to Inter at the same time that Costa was packed off to Milan to ease club debts.

Juan Cuadrado (now at Juventus) and Marcos Alonso were both sold to Chelsea for decent money two years apart, while Felipe Melo (Juventus), Stevan Jovetic (Manchester City) and Matias Vecino (Inter) continued Fiorentina's philosophy of buying low and selling high.

The path well-trodden out of the Stadio Artemio Franchi has often led to bigger and better things, and that bodes well for Vlahovic now that it appears he will be the next in line.

He seems to have all the tools to be the star striker this current, rather dour, edition of the Bianconeri require. Indeed, Vlahovic's 33 goals in Serie A last season matched the record set by Cristiano Ronaldo at Juve in 2020.

It might be tough to take (again) for Viola fans, but if history is anything to go by, their next hero won't be far away.

Of course, he'll probably also sign for Juve eventually, but that will just be a case of crossing the Ponte Vecchio when they come to it.

Gianluigi Buffon has called time on his second spell at Juventus, concluding a defining playing association with the Serie A giants.

There may only be three clubs on the goalkeeping great's resume but sustained excellence over more than two decades has filled his trophy cabinet with individual and team honours. 

The former Parma prodigy has rubbed shoulders with the very best in world football throughout that time, forming part of Serie A, Ligue 1 and World Cup-winning sides.

In honour of Buffon's stellar career, we have compiled a star-studded group of former team-mates for a dream XI.

 

GOALKEEPER: GIANLUIGI BUFFON

Who else has the pedigree to don the gloves in such a side?

A five-time member of the UEFA Team of the Year, he boasts more Serie A clean sheets than any other player and, as captain of his country from 2010 until his retirement in 2018, would have no trouble bringing this team together.

RIGHT-BACK: LILIAN THURAM

Having been joined by Buffon at Parma after his switch from Monaco in 1996, Thuram followed his team-mate in making the move to Turin ahead of the 2001-02 campaign.

The 142-time France international, part of the side that tasted glory at the 1998 World Cup on home soil and won Euro 2000, spent five seasons at Juve before rounding out his career with a spell at Barcelona.

CENTRE-BACK: FABIO CANNAVARO

Buffon's inheritance of the Italy armband from Cannavaro in 2010 completed the striking symmetry of their careers.

They both made their Parma debuts in 1995, did the same for Italy in 1997 and were reunited at club level when Cannavaro, one of few defenders to win the Ballon d'Or, joined Juve in 2004. They also lifted the World Cup together in 2006.

CENTRE-BACK: ALESSANDRO NESTA

A long-time rival at club level, Nesta was part of the famous Milan defence that beat Juve in the 2002-03 Champions League final – he scored his penalty against Buffon in a 3-2 shoot-out victory – and triumphed again four seasons later.

He was named in the Team of the Tournament at Euro 2000, which Buffon missed through injury, but the 2006 World Cup success will undoubtedly be the highlight of his career.

LEFT-BACK: PAOLO MALDINI

With admirable longevity, loyalty and leadership, classy defender Maldini set the path that Buffon has so impressively followed.

The long-time Rossoneri skipper, a seven-time Scudetto winner who also lifted the European Cup on five occasions, Maldini was the only player to have managed more Serie A appearances than the veteran keeper until his Juve return.

CENTRAL MIDFIELD: ANDREA PIRLO

Has there been a more iconic duo of the modern era?

Pirlo was already at the top by the time he swapped Milan for Juve, but he saved plenty of his play-making brilliance for Buffon and friends as the Bianconeri re-asserted themselves as Italy's top club with a run of successive Scudetti that stretched to nine before being ended by Inter this season as their reunion as player and head coach did not yield similar results.

CENTRAL MIDFIELD: PAVEL NEDVED

Nedved's blend of athleticism, tenacity and well-rounded technical ability made him close to the complete midfielder.

He helped Czech Republic to the final of Euro 1996 and his value to Juve was summed up by a Ballon d'Or victory in 2003.

ATTACKING MIDFIELD: ROBERTO BAGGIO

Less than two years after a 17-year-old Buffon held Baggio and Milan scoreless on his senior debut for Parma, the pair were sharing the same shirt for Italy.

Two of the Azzurri's greatest were in the same squad at the 1998 World Cup, although Buffon would ultimately go one better than the 1993 Ballon d'Or winner, who suffered final heartache against Brazil at USA 94.

ATTACKING MIDFIELD: ALESSANDRO DEL PIERO

He stands as an equal in the pantheon of Juve luminaries.

Buffon and the majestic Del Piero combined to help the Bianconeri finish top of Serie A on five occasions, while they lined up for Italy together for over a decade and experienced World Cup glory together

FORWARD: CRISTIANO RONALDO

Ronaldo joined Juve as Buffon embarked upon his hiatus with Paris Saint-Germain. The five-time Ballon d'Or winner was supposed to add Champions League glory to domestic dominance and now Juventus have neither.

Nevertheless, Ronaldo's individual form has remained imperious. In 127 appearances for the Bianconceri, he has 97 goals at a rate of a goal every 113 minutes.

FORWARD: KYLIAN MBAPPE

They were only together for a year but the France phenomenon is a performer to compare with many of the greats to have shared a dressing room with Buffon.

Fresh from 2018 World Cup success with France, Mbappe scored 39 goals in 43 appearances for PSG in 2018-19, averaging 90.25 minutes per goal and boasting a shot conversion rate of 22 per cent.

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