LONDON (Reuters) - Caretaker Italy coach Luigi Di Biagio says the current crop of players must be given time to grow - and make mistakes on the way - as the traditional soccer superpower begins the rebuilding job in the wake of a shock failure to qualify for the World Cup.
A late penalty by Lorenzo Insigne earned them a 1-1 draw with England in a friendly on Tuesday with a display much improved from their 2-0 defeat by Argentina four days ago.
But the result means the Azzurri, who have not got past the World Cup group stage since winning their fourth title in 2006, have managed one win in their last seven games - 1-0 against Albania - and scored only three goals in the process.
While England and Argentina can kick on for the World Cup in Russia, Italy will be looking in from the outside for the first time in 60 years – 1958 being the only finals they failed to qualify for except the first in 1930 when they did not enter.
They played well in the early stages on Tuesday, Ciro Immobile missing three good chances, but offered little once Jamie Vardy had put England ahead in the 26th minute until a VAR-assisted penalty decision earned them a draw.
“I’m still disappointed we lost on Friday, we deserved more, and I would have been disappointed to lose today as we played well and played with personality at Wembley, which is never easy,” Di Biagio told reporters.
“It’s been a fantastic 10 days. They all gave me all they could and I thanked them for their commitment. Everyone is talking about who the manager is going to be but that’s not the problem,” he added.
Italy have been without a permanent coach since Gian Piero Ventura left in November after they failed to reach Russia.
“I don’t know if I’ll be there for the next game but that’s not the problem,” said Di Biagio, who probably has the best view of all of the country’s footballing future having spent seven years coaching the under-20s and under-21s but who is widely expected to miss out on the senior role.
“This group of players are Italy. They are very good, not as bad as people say, and they need to know that,” he said. “They can improve and do well, whether it’s with me or not I’m not concerned about at the moment.”
Asked about Italy’s chronic lack of goals - a problem that cost them dear as they lost 1-0 on aggregate to Sweden in their World Cup playoff - Di Biagio said the team must be true to his principles.
“People say we should start rebuilding by defending well but if we don’t go out to play we don’t grow,” he said.
“This is a starting point. It’s a pity we’re not scoring many goals after building so much in the last two matches but if we keep building, the goals will come.
“Yes there were mistakes today but they were made largely because they were trying to do what I asked them to do and that’s better than not even trying.
“Whoever is the manager, the main thing is that this group must be allowed to grow.”
Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Ken Ferris