ROME — Out with the old guard and in with the new.
Italy’s national soccer team needs a serious injection of youth to recover from its failure to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in six decades.
Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, defender Andrea Barzagli and midfielder Daniele De Rossi — the three holdovers from the squad that won the country’s fourth World Cup in 2006 — announced they were retiring from the national team in the aftermath of a 1-0 aggregate loss to Sweden in a playoff.
Veteran defender Giorgio Chiellini was also considering retirement.
“We all need to take a step back to reset the movement,” Chiellini said. “It’s the lowest point in modern times for Italian soccer. We need to take advantage of this moment to redesign a new squad.”
Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura is sure to go, and there are also calls for soccer federation president Carlo Tavecchio to step down.
So who’s left for the Azzurri?
The easiest answer to that question comes in goal, where 18-year-old AC Milan starter Gianluigi Donnarumma is set to replace Buffon.
In defense, Leonardo Bonucci could be the only holdover from the “BBC” trio with Barzagli and Chiellini. Younger defenders on the horizon include Daniele Rugani, Alessio Romagnoli and Mattia Caldara.
There is hope in midfield, too. Although Marco Verratti still hasn’t put in a solid performance as he attempts to replace the retired Andrea Pirlo, a lot will be expected of the Paris Saint-Germain player in the coming years.
Then there is Brazilian-born Jorginho, who was given his first competitive action for Italy in the second leg against Sweden and showed that he can be a reliable option in midfield. Roberto Gagliardini, a physical 23-year-old midfielder for Inter Milan, should also gain more playing time.
Up front, talented wingers Lorenzo Insigne and Stephan El Shaarawy are approaching their primes and center forwards Ciro Immobile and Andrea Belotti are also in their early to mid-20s. At 27, the long-excluded Mario Balotelli could still have plenty to contribute if he ever matures enough.
Other players to watch out for down the line are 20-year-old Fiorentina forward Federico Chiesa — the son of former Italy striker Enrico Chiesa — and 23-year-old Sassuolo striker Domenico Berardi. AC Milan’s 23-year-old right back Andrea Conti and 21-year-old Roma midfielder Lorenzo Pellegrini are also potential national team players.
The biggest question, though, is who will replace Ventura as coach.