FLORENCE, Italy (AP) — Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura is counting on his youngsters.
Ventura has not been afraid to bring in new players since he took charge after the 2016 European Championship, including giving teenage goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma his debut.
"We all remember when I said there was a crop of youngsters who would need to be taken care of to build an important national team for the future," Ventura said. "If we qualify for the World Cup then we could be a surprise because there is a huge hunger in these young players."
Ventura has also organized two training camps to have a closer look at other young players, with a third planned for May.
"The young players must live, breath and experience the national team, only then will they be ready for important challenges," he said. "We are convinced that the youngsters will be the future and we are giving them time to grow.
"(Andrea) Petagna and (Leonardo) Spinazzola have gone from the training camp to the full team. But It's not enough to be young, you also have to have potential. Of course some guys have fulfilled expectations, others have stopped."
Only the nine European group winners are guaranteed to reach the World Cup, while the eight best runners-up face a playoff. Italy is level on points with Spain at the top of Group G but second on goal difference.
"The primary concern is qualifying, seeing as it's the first time that only one team goes through and we're not at the top of the standings," Ventura said. "To qualify we need the youngsters but also the experience of those less young."
Italy and Spain, which drew 1-1 in Turin, are next scheduled to meet on Sept. 2. Before that, Italy faces Liechtenstein on June 11 and Albania in Palermo on Friday. Italy also visits the Netherlands for a friendly international next Tuesday.
"The result is extremely important," Ventura said. "We are aware it will be a delicate match and that will allow us to go to Spain to obtain something concrete.
"I am calm because after three months I have again found a group of players who are ready to give their all."