Graziano Pelle insists his glaring Euro 2016 penalty miss is behind him after hitting the opener for Italy in a 3-1 win away to 2018 World Cup qualifying opponents Israel. Pelle and Simone Zaza were among the main culprits after missing the target during a dramatic penalty shoot-out with Germany in the quarter-finals of Euro 2016 earlier this summer that sealed Italy’s early return home.
The former Southampton striker’s international career even looked to have suffered a blow when he opted for a big-money move to Shandong Luneng in the Chinese Premier League. But Pelle maintained coach Giampiero Ventura’s faith by scoring Italy’s only goal in a 3-1 friendly defeat to Euro 2016 finalists France last Thursday.
And he offered the fledgling Azzurri coach further comfort when he found the net before the quarter-hour in Haifa on Monday with his ninth goal in 19 appearances as 10-man Italy made a winning start to their Group G qualifying campaign. Pelle said his ability to remain ‘positive’ has been key. “I might have a lot of defects,” Pelle said when asked about his missed penalty against Germany earlier this summer. But one of my qualities is to remain positive. Unfortunately, in football there are always brutal moments but you have to go on.”
Ventura had hinted two months ago Pelle’s move to China could harm his chances of remaining with the national team. “A player has to be strong, psychologically and mentally,” to feature for Italy while playing outside of Europe, said Ventura.
But after Monday’s performance, Pelle’s place in the national team, for the moment, does not look under threat. “I’m tenacious, and I always want to improve. I think I still have a lot to offer Italy,” added the 31-year-old striker.
Meanwhile, Ventura offered a glowing report on Paris Saint Germain midfielder Marco Verratti, who shone on his first Italy appearance since qualifying for Euro 2016, which he missed after undergoing a hernia operation.
Verratti was creative throughout the encounter — prompting Luca Antonelli to deliver the cross for Pelle’s opener and telling Giacomo Bonaventura to help create the penalty that allowed Italy to double their lead through Antonio Candreva — and the diminutive midfielder took command when Italy were reduced to 10 after Giorgio Chiellini saw red 10 minutes after the restart.
“Verratti did what was expected of him, he’s young, has lots of personality and plays in a different championship (France) and has to understand what we need from him,” said Ventura. “He had a great game and I’m happy for him. If we have a lot of faith in him, it’s because he’s an integral part of the national squad.”
Verratti is expected to succeed former Juventus great Andrea Pirlo, who has retired from international football, as Italy’s midfield orchestrator. And after what was his first full 90-minute game since February, the 23-year-od midfield maestro admitted playing for the national side was ‘the most beautiful’ experience.
“I haven’t played 90 minutes since February, so I struggled to find my rhythm a little,” said Verratti.
“But this game was far too important for us, and my determination (to play well) took me to the limit. For me, playing for the national team is the most beautiful thing, no matter which position I play in — as long as I help the team.”
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