PREMIER League winner Claudio Ranieri is ready to leave his role with French club Nantes to become Italy’s new national team manager, while Willian has done his chances of a Brazil recall ahead of the World Cup no harm after his heroics against Barcelona.
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RANIERI TO QUIT NANTES FOR ITALY JOB
Claudio Ranieri, who led Leicester City to an unlikely English Premier League title, has revealed he is ready to quit French Ligue 1 club Nantes if he is asked to become Italy coach.
The 66-year-old has been one of the names touted as a possible replacement for Gian Piero Ventura who was forced to resign after Italy’s shock failure to qualify for the World Cup in Russia.
“Any Italian coach would love to be in charge of the national side,” Ranieri, who guided Leicester to their first ever Premier League title in 2016, told Sky Sport Italia.
“I have a contract with Nantes for two years and I have not received any messages, so I can’t say anything.
“But if I were to be contacted for the Italy job, I’d go to the Nantes president and ask to be released,” said the widely-travelled Ranieri, whose former clubs include Juventus, Napoli and Roma in Italy, Premier League giants Chelsea and Valencia and Atletico Madrid in Spain.
He also had a brief stint in charge of the Greek national side. Ranieri joined Nantes this season and the club are in fifth position in Ligue 1, 10 points behind Lyon, who are in the fourth and final European qualifying spot.
“The day it’s decided we’ll see … if the opportunity arises I’ll discuss it (with him),” said Nantes president Waldemar Kita.
“I would also understand, in a way, that at the end of his career as a top coach, it could end well for him (with an offer) that will not present itself twice.
“I’m not one to curb professional and personal ambitions, so I’m not going to. If I was in his position I would do the same thing.” Italy’s 1-0 aggregate play-off defeat to Sweden last year meant the Azzurri failed to reach the World Cup for the first time since 1958.
Former Italy head coach Antonio Conte, now coaching Chelsea; Carlo Ancelotti, sacked by Bayern Munich last September, and Zenit Saint Petersburg coach Roberto Mancini are also among those linked to the coaching job.
Italy Under-21 boss Luigi Di Biagio has been appointed interim coach to oversee friendlies against Argentina and England next month.
WILLIAN GETS BRAZIL BOSS’ ATTENTION
Willian isn’t used to receiving much acclaim. Even a place in Chelsea’s starting lineup isn’t certain.
And if any Chelsea player was going to outshine Lionel Messi against Barcelona, surely it was going to be Eden Hazard.
Perhaps that’s why Barcelona underestimated Willian on Tuesday night, leaving him unmarked in dangerous spots so often.
While Hazard’s contribution as the false nine was modest, Willian produced one of his most complete performances for Chelsea in the Champions League last-16 first leg.
It wasn’t just his 11th goal of the season – the opener that rattled Barcelona in the second half – or the two occasions he thundered shots against a post. There was speed he provided down the right flank, finishing as the game’s top dribbler and winning the most aerial duels among the home players. “Willian has the potential to play this type of game in every game and I hope to see this for a long time,” Chelsea manager Antonio Conte said after the 1-1 draw.
“When you play in this way the coach doesn’t have any doubts about you playing.” There have been doubts, though. Many. The decision to play without a recognized striker provided an opening for Willian, who only played the last ten minutes of Chelsea’s last Premier League game against West Bromwich Albion. Willian seized the opportunity to make an impact against Barcelona on the right wing in a game when Chelsea had to settle for 32 percent possession and was left frustrated when Messi equalized.
“It was one of my best performances here,” Willian said. “I almost had a hat trick. We were a bit unlucky but we must be proud of our performance because we played really well. To play against Barcelona is not easy.” The strategy was well executed by Conte in the competition the Italian coach might have to win to stay in the job into next season.
“We had to stay compact, we had a plan and we did exactly as we expected,” Willian said. “They had the ball and we expected to counterattack.” The first leg confounded the status of the teams: Barcelona is the unbeaten Spanish leader, while Chelsea has tumbled to fourth in the Premier League. After all the effort Chelsea took to bring Willian to Stamford Bridge, perhaps they should be valuing the winger’s abilities more.
Brazil coach Tite could have been given a welcome selection quandary after Willian fell out of favor in the national team setup. The talk now in Brazil is whether Tite reshapes the lineup to accommodate Willian, with Renato Augusto the fall guy. A front four of Willian, Philippe Coutinho, Gabriel Jesus and Neymar could prove intimidating in Russia, where Brazil faces Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia in a relatively kind group. Pundits in Brazil were naturally raving during the broadcast of Tuesday’s game. “Willian can say he played better than Messi,” said Junior, who played at the 1982 and 1986 World Cups, on Globo. “Not many players can say that, and I am sure Tite is watching now.” More immediately, Willian needs to retain the faith of Conte.
FIFA PRESIDENT INSISTS RUSSIA IS READY
FIFA president Gianni Infantino insisted on Tuesday that Russia is ready to host the World Cup later this year, despite reports that several stadiums have failed to meet completion deadlines.
Russia will host the World Cup from June 14 to July 15 across 11 cities. “Russia is 99 percent ready to host the World Cup, they are putting the last finishing touches and everyone who is going to Russia will have a fantastic time,” Infantino said at a press briefing in Lagos after a FIFA summit.
“Arrangements are all in place to make it a great experience.” The FIFA boss said the focus of the summit in Lagos was to improve age-grade competitions, while he also praised hosts Nigeria for their success in such tournaments.
Nigeria have won the under-17 World Cup a record five times, beginning with the inaugural edition in 1985 in China.
On Monday, Infantino was honoured with a special award by the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF).
WC TROPHY VISITS PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES
Thousands of Palestinian football fans took photographs with the World Cup trophy Monday as it tours the globe ahead of this summer’s tournament in Russia.
More than 10,000 people queued to see the trophy during three days it was displayed near Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, organisers said.
It is the second time the World Cup has been displayed in the Palestinian territories and comes as part of a wider tour of the trophy ahead of the World Cup.
The cup left Monday afternoon for Jordan before it goes to Dubai later in the week. It visited Israel last week.
Hamza Samara brought his sons for a photo with the cup shortly before it left. “I have seen the World Cup on television but to see it in real life and take a picture with it is something else,” he said.
“It is something beautiful that changes the atmosphere and takes my sons away from the circumstances we live under.” As elsewhere in the Arab world, football is hugely popular among Palestinians. The Palestinian football association has fought a long battle at FIFA over football played in Israeli settlements, which is argues is illegal under international law.