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Italy caught between youth and experience

Italy will need to integrate their younger players into the team if they want to stand their best chance of competing at the 2014 World Cup.

Claudio Villa

Although a noble effort, it seems that this tournament was a step too far for this Italy side. They'll be glad that will be said about such a minor tournament, but in truth they've been caught in a generational gap. The forerunners of the team are of the hardier stock that prevailed in 2006, the last of a dying breed of Italian international that got by on know-how, with their technique supplemented by mastery of the dark arts: ghostly movement from forwards and midfielders, cynical and, when necessary, brutal defending from those at the back.

Italy's new talents don't appear to have much of that - youth is probably a notable reason, but regardless, they embody a purer form of talent, The new Italy is, above all, about moments and the players capable of producing them. Stephan El-Shaarawy is the perfect example of a player who operates in mere flickers, but brings a level of creativity to the side that few can match. At the other end of the team, Mattia De Sciglio has shown an almost otherworldly level of ease and composure to his defending, even if his concentration has been responsible for a couple of goals lost so far.

Between tonight's meaningless encounter and 2014, they will be joined by others cut from the same cloth. Marco Verratti, when he returns to the squad, will be one - at times for Paris Saint-Germain last season he was exposed defensively and inconsistent, but was often at the heart of some of the club's best football. Mario Balotelli's flaws are by now well-documented, but international football has always favoured the kind of striker he represents - when every goal is huge, the cruelty of his finishing becomes indispensable.

This kind of style married to the old ways of the squad's veterans sounds in theory a perfect mix, but in reality the two have been almost in opposition to each other. Great sides are rarely born from a meeting between older veterans and younger, more exciting talents. If they were, Scotland and Croatia would have trophies to their name. Instead, it usually takes the form of a newer generation sweeping aside the old, and to do that, you need enough talent in the first place.

Italy have been strong at the tournament so far, upping their game as they do, culminating in actually outplaying Spain, but not having enough of the younger talents to make the most of the flashpoints in that encounter cost them. There was no Balotelli around to power the many chances into the corner of the net, and no Shaarawy or Verratti to ensure that those same chances were not more frequent and based around actually dismantling a defence, rather than simply putting in a decent delivery.

If Italy want to compete for the World Cup in 2014 - and they certainly can - then integrating the newer talents will be a necessity. Not just so they can play a part, but where they are actually functioning as the main operatives of the team. The likes of Andrea Pirlo will need replacing soon enough, and Riccardo Montolivo, for all his qualities, is a significant downgrade to say the least.