European champ Italy still has some unfinished business

Challenging start: Louis van Gaal has been given the job of reviving the Netherlands’ fortunes.  

For Italy it is back to business less than eight weeks after its Euro 2020 triumph. The Azzurri will take the acclaim of their own supporters when they play Bulgaria in Florence in a World Cup qualifier.

Roberto Mancini’s team cannot afford to rest on its laurels because until it has secured qualification for the finals in Qatar, it will not have completely erased the memory of its failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

Italy is unbeaten in 34 games — including winning its first three qualifiers for Qatar back in March — and now it faces three more matches in eight days with a trip to Switzerland and a home meeting with Lithuania also on the agenda.

Italy’s game on Sunday in Basel against Switzerland, its biggest rival in Group C, will therefore be crucial.

At the moment the biggest European names with work to do are the Netherlands and Germany, two powerhouses who head into the autumn with new coaches.

Hansi Flick is the new man in charge of Germany after 15 years under Joachim Low.

Germany, however, will be without captain Manuel Neuer and forward Thomas Muller who are both injured and ruled out of Thursday’s qualifier against Liechtenstein.

Leno to deputise

Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno will deputise for Neuer, who sat out training all week with an ankle knock.

Flick is hopeful he will be fit for for their next qualifier against Armenia in Stuttgart.

The Netherlands, which also failed to qualify for the last World Cup, sacked Frank de Boer after going out of Euro 2020 in the last 16 and has reappointed Louis van Gaal.

The man who led the Oranje to the 2014 World Cup semifinals takes over a team currently trailing a point behind Group G leader Turkey.

It could be a challenging start to the 70-year-old Van Gaal’s third stint as national coach as the Netherlands plays Erling Haaland’s Norway in Oslo before hosting Montenegro and Turkey.

For England it is all about putting the pain of its Euro final defeat behind it as it faces potential pitfalls away in Hungary and Poland, either side of a home meeting with Andorra.

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Printable version | Oct 21, 2021 11:31:47 PM |

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