“It was one of my worst performances from an individual level, but the important thing was that the team go forward,” stated Italy midfielder Andrea Pirlo following the 2-0 win over Ireland, which sealed the Azzurri’s place in the quarter-finals.
The Juventus midfielder was probably as relieved as most Azzurri fans with the result as we were put through the mill once more, as Italy lumbered to the win.
All the talk of a ‘biscotto’ beforehand came to nothing as Spain defeated Croatia 1-0 thanks to a late Jesus Navas goal, thus ensuring Italy finished runner-up in Group C.
Even though Italy made it to the next round there are still visible problems in the Azzurri set up.
First of all, the tactical plan, which was changed against Ireland from 3-5-2 to Cesare Prandelli’s favoured 4-3-1-2, suggests the Italy coach doesn’t have a clear idea of how he wants to set up. The first two games saw the Azzurri play well for 45 minutes in both, but the level of performance dropped in both and Italy luckily managed to come away with two draws. Though the fact remains, this change in tactic yielded Prandelli’s first win in the tournament.
However, resorting back to a formation that was ditched a few days before the tournament has been viewed by many as a step backward. Nevertheless, it could be a plan Prandelli will be forced to use again as the injury to Giorgio Chiellini has robbed the Italians of their best defender probably for the rest of the tournament.
Thus, a return to a three-man backline with Andrea Barzagli – replacing Chiellini - and Leonardo Bonucci beside Daniele De Rossi may be a risk as if one is injured or suspended, he clearly doesn’t trust Angelo Ogbonna given he was overlooked for the first two matches and is now the only other available centre-back.
One of the biggest issues which faced Italy on Monday evening was Ireland’s infinite amount of energy. Giovanni Trapattoni’s men pressed extremely well but the thought in Italy was they would tire, allowing Andrea Pirlo to pick them off towards the end. This never happened and Italy couldn’t cope with this so-called spirito britannico, as Italians like to say. So it is a worry for the quarter-final as England also have the same work ethic as the Irish and will likely utilise it.
England do pose a big threat; they are very organised and have a coach in Roy Hodgson who has schooled his side in the ways of catenaccio, ironically enough. Plus they have pace in the form of Danny Welbeck, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, which will be a worry for the Italian centre-backs who aren’t particularly blessed in this department.
As a result Prandelli has a number of things to think about ahead of the game, plus the almost daily question of who should be starting in attack for Italy?
La Gazzetta dello Sport asked the Italian public that same question and 36 percent want the Balotelli-Cassano axis to start the quarter-final match. This is a fact Prandelli is likely to agree with as Balotelli's fitness will be vital, as much as he can be a liability, with both Cassano and Antonio Di Natale unlikely to complete 90 minutes. Starting both restricts the coaches flexibility as he knows both will have to be subbed off during the game.
Belief is rising in Italy that the team can make their mark on Euro 2012, with Trapattoni thinks they ‘can go all the way’ and Claudio Marchisio insisting the players ‘do not fear any of the sides left in the competition.’
The omens are good as the last time the two sides faced each other in meaningful fixture in tournament football was in Euro 1980 – third place playoffs are hardly meaningful – as the Azzurri ran out 1-0 winners in the group stage.
Can the 2012 Italy side do the same and march on to the semi-finals? Who knows, but it wont be all plain sailing… this is Italy of course.
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