MILAN: Luciano Spalletti is looking for a solution to Italy’s long-standing striker problem as the Azzurri gear up for two crucial Euro 2024 qualifiers with Malta and England.
The European champions have scored six times in their four Group C matches, 10 fewer than runaway leaders England who are six points ahead of second-placed Italy, Ukraine and North Macedonia.
They will also be without Sandro Tonali and Nicolo Zaniolo after the pair were sent home after criminal prosecutors launched an investigation into alleged gambling offences.
Veteran Lazio striker Ciro Immobile and Argentina-born Mateo Retegui, who has had a positive start to life in Italy with Genoa, are both injured, leaving Spalletti with few and uninspiring options up front.
Gianluca Scamacca has scored twice in six appearances for new club Atalanta, although he has been hampered by an early season hamstring injury, but is yet to net for the Azzurri after 11 international caps.
Meanwhile Moise Kean has been called up for the first time in two years despite being a bit-part player at Juventus and yet to score this campaign.
One of those two are likely however to lead the line against bottom side Malta in Bari on Saturday also in the absence of Kean’s Juve teammate Federico Chiesa, who is hopeful of returning on Tuesday at Wembley, the site of Italy’s thrilling Euro 2020 triumph against England.
Chiesa has shown in the opening weeks of the season that he can play centre-forward, with four goals in seven matches since being moved into a more central attacking position this season.
Giacomo Raspadori seems like an ideal Spalletti player and performed well in last month’s 2-1 win over Ukraine but on Monday the former Napoli coach suggested that he wanted more of a physical presence from his front man.
“A striker needs to have the right physique, the right frame. Scamacca and Kean have it,” he said before adding that Raspadori was more suited to playing off a centre-forward or on the wing.
“PLAYING OUR OWN GAME”
Over 50,000 tickets have been sold for Italy’s first match at the Stadio San Nicola since losing a friendly with France in 2016, hinting at a renewed enthusiasm for the national team after an intriguing start to life under Spalletti.
Four points from his first two matches with North Macedonia and Ukraine last month have Italy with the advantage for second place and the group’s other automatic spot in Germany next summer.
They lead third-placed Ukraine and North Macedonia on head-to-head record and have a game in hand on every other team in the group, with Italy’s two main rivals facing off in Prague on Saturday afternoon.
However looming on the horizon is the England clash, a fixture which has special significance for Italy after their thrilling win at the last Euro and which could be key to their hopes of reaching next year’s tournament.
Italy host North Macedonia and then take on Ukraine in Leverkusen in their final two qualifying matches in November and defeat at Wembley could easily let either one of their rivals nick second spot.
“I aspire to play great football, and we have what it takes,” said Spalletti.
“On Tuesday we’re going to the home of the inventors of football to play our own game.”
Regardless of how the group pans out Italy have a spot in the play-offs thanks to their performance in the Nations League.
But after missing out on the last two World Cups via that route few in the country will have the stomach for another knockout nail-biter to decide their major tournament fate.