Ventura calm as Azzurri face Israel

HAIFA (ISRAEL) • New Italy coach Giampiero Ventura is unconcerned by Thursday's home friendly loss to France ahead of his team's opening World Cup qualifier in Israel today.

The 2006 World Cup champions slumped to a 3-1 defeat in Bari but Ventura, who took over the Azzurri hotseat from new Chelsea manager Antonio Conte, does not expect such a stern test in Haifa.

"With the greatest of respect, Israel aren't France. We will look at some errors that we can avoid and I'm sure we'll put in a better performance," the 68-year-old said.

Even so, there is anxiety in the Italian camp, with striker Graziano Pelle insisting: "There are no excuses, we must beat Israel."

Italy are expected to battle with Spain for top spot in Group G and the only automatic qualification place. Albania and Macedonia round out the group.

The winners of each group will qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, while the eight best runners-up advance to the play-offs.

Playmaker Marco Verratti, who missed the 2016 European Championship due to injury, says Italy are up against it.

"We have been put in a difficult group, but if we do what what we can then we have a good chance of getting through," he said.

Centre-back Leonardo Bonucci will play despite worries about his young son's health, but the injured veteran Daniele de Rossi will miss out.

Israel are looking to qualify for their first World Cup Finals appearance since 1970.

They will also start their qualifying campaign with a new manager after Eli Guttman resigned following four mediocre years in charge, to be replaced by Elisha Levy.

Captain Eran Zahavi says his team are aiming for qualification despite lining up with some of Europe's heavyweights in their group.

"Do not stop believing, we will not give up and we will give it our all," said the 28-year-old.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2016, with the headline 'Ventura calm as Azzurri face Israel'. Print Edition | Subscribe