Cannavaro fears for Italy's future

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The Independent Football

Italy's outgoing captain Fabio Cannavaro believes the deposed world champions may continue to struggle because of a lack of top talent.

"I think there are not many changes we can make. At the moment, Italy is not producing players like in my generation, when we had great players," he said yesterday.

"It's not just the national team, it's the clubs. We have good players but not top-drawer. I've been saying for a while that the system has to change. We have to invest in youth."

The Azzurri slumped out of the World Cup at the group stage, failing to win a match at the finals for the first time after drawing with unheralded Paraguay and New Zealand before a dire 3-2 defeat by tournament debutants Slovakia on Thursday.

Cannavaro, who has now retired from the national team, also dismissed suggestions that the tricky Sampdoria playmaker Antonio Cassano or Internazionale's teenage striker Mario Balotelli could have made a difference if they had been in the squad.

"There are no phenomenons," he said, eyebrows raised. "If there were, we would have brought them. I like Antonio but he played in two European Championships and we didn't win. Mario is a good young player, but he has to demonstrate it more."

The 36-year-old Cannavaro now heads for semi-retirement at Dubai's Al-Ahli, having flopped personally in South Africa just four years after being world player of the year. "Sure this is a dark moment, but it can't cancel the great things we did in 2006," he added.

The Italian federation president, Giancarlo Abete, said that he would not be resigning because his decision to rehire the 2006 World Cup winner Marcello Lippi as coach in 2008 was an obvious choice. Lippi had already announced he would be leaving after this World Cup and Cesare Prandelli will take over as Italy coach on 1 July, although Abete said the former Fiorentina manager had still not formally signed his four-year contract.

Prandelli has a major challenge on his hands to revive Italy's fortunes, which Abete openly acknowledged. "Lots of Italian players are not at an international level," he said, bemoaning that only 42 per cent of Serie A players are Italian. But European Union law makes changes unlikely.

Abete, who admitted that Thursday's first half had been "unwatchable" because Italy had failed to string two passes together, led the federation calmly out of Serie A's 2006 match-fixing scandal, but failed in bids to host Euro 2012 and 2016.