IRENE, South Africa (AP) — The problems facing Italy stretch beyond the defending World Cup champions' performance in South Africa, the head of Italian soccer says. One of the world's great soccer nations needs to develop players.
Italy was held to a shocking 1-1 draw with New Zealand on Sunday, after also tying 1-1 with Paraguay to open its title defense. While they have produced numerous chances in both games, the Azzurri forwards have been woeful at finding the target.
Midfielder Daniele De Rossi scored against Paraguay and forward Vincenzo Iaquinta converted a penalty kick against New Zealand. Many of the most dangerous scoring chances have been produced by midfielders — with Riccardo Montolivo hitting the post against New Zealand.
The other forwards — Alberto Gilardino, Antonio Di Natale and Giampaolo Pazzini — have come up empty, and coach Marcello Lippi has been widely criticized for never even considering calling up talented but temperamental strikers Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli.
"It's a problem we're going to have to reflect on after this World Cup. But it's not a problem related to one or two specific players," Abete said Monday. "We don't have any Golden Ball-level players anymore. It's a larger problem with Italian football. We're going through a generational change. There are also problems at the youth level and the under 21 team."
Italy needs to beat Slovakia in its final Group F match Thursday to be sure of advancing. Paraguay leads the group with four points, Italy and New Zealand have two apiece and Slovakia is last with one.
"If anyone isn't worried they're not being responsible," Abete said. "But we can still qualify quite easily. We've got to stay positive."
Italy has scored only five goals in its last seven matches and only one forward has found the target in open play: Fabio Quagliarella in a 1-1 draw with Switzerland in a pre-World Cup friendly.
"We're not scoring much and therefore when we allow goals it becomes much tougher to turn the game around," Abete said. "We have a problem finishing."
Nine players on the Azzurri squad are 30 or over, led by 36-year-old captain Fabio Cannavaro, who was responsible in part for both of the goals Italy has allowed so far.
"All the European teams are having problems," Abete said. "With the exception of Brazil and the Netherlands nobody is entering the third game comfortably."