Team Profile: Italy
June 8, 2012 in Euro 2012
“If they would say to us that for the good of football, the national team must not go to the Euros, it would not be a problem. To be honest I am really curious to see whether or not we have a side good enough to do something at this tournament.
I have no objectives whatsoever. Qualifying for Euro 2012 was our objective”. - Italian National Team Manager, Cesare Prandelli
As expectations go, it would be fair to say the Italians don’t rate themselves as highly as one may have assumed. A highly decorated nation with a total of four World Cup titles and one European Championship, their accolades leave me wondering why they aren’t favourites to win Euro 2012. Generally, Spain and Germany seem to have the backing to win, with the Netherlands thrown into the mix too; but could the Azzurri surprise us all in 2012?
2006 gave us Italy’s last major international competition win with the country picking up their fourth World Cup after a tense final against France. In May 2006, just a month before the competition kicked off, Italian football was thrown into turmoil after the ‘Calciopoli’ scandal that eventually saw Juventus stripped of their 2005 and 2006 Serie A titles. This inauspicious start somewhat dampened expectations and allowed Italy to play without fear, as for once they weren’t expected to make the latter stage of the competition.
Fast forward to 2012, and Cesare Prandelli has once more played down the chances of an Italian win. Has he learnt the lessons from 2006? Well…to a certain extent I would say he has, but one cannot forget that once again Italy has been rocked by another match fixing scandal. Aside from this, we also need to consider the poor form shown by Italian national sides over recent cup competitions. In 2010, Marcelo Lippi’s Italy spectacularly failed to defend their 2006 World Cup as they went out in the group stages in South Africa, whilst in 2008 Roberto Donadoni’s men limped through to the Quarter Finals of the European Championships before being put out by Spain on penalties.
Dampening expectations could be the way forward for the Azzurri, a nation steeped in triumph, pining for their glory days.
If Italy is to win Euro 2012, then they will have to be firing on all cylinders from the word ‘go’. Italy’s form during a tournament is quite simply based on how well they fare in their first game. 2010 saw a 1-1 draw with Paraguay (knocked out in the group stages), 2008 was greeted with a 3-0 loss against the Netherlands (Quarter Finals), whilst in 2006 the Italians beat Ghana 2-0 (Winners). Going back even further in 2004 a nil-nil encounter with Denmark saw them also go out in the group stages.
If we take this into account then, Italy will need to win their first game; but first games don’t come much harder than Spain.
If they can get through their encounter with the World Champions, then they face Croatia and finally the Republic of Ireland.
It is by no means an easy group, but it is winnable. The Italian national side have fallen at the first hurdle quite a few times in recent years, yet I’m sure they have enough quality to make it through.
Italian national teams can normally find their leaders in the defensive ranks. Famously, both Fabio Cannavaro and Dino Zoff have led Italy to World Cup wins, so could their captain Gianluigi Buffon do the same?
In 2006, he conceded just two goals in seven matches, and won the coveted Lev Yashin award for ‘Best Goalkeeper’, and in 2012, he will once more prove what a fantastic goalkeeper and asset he is for his national side. Buffon is the most capped player in the current squad and will want to take the trophy home.
When I think of great Italian footballers, my mind drifts off and remembers Del Piero, Totti, Cannavaro, Nesta, Maldini, Baggio, Zambrotta, Inzaghi and Vieri, but when I look at the Italian team sheet, I see none of these names. Could the likes of Giorgio Chiellini, Claudio Marchisio, Thiago Motta, Antonio Nocerino and Sebastian Giovinco join the pantheon of Italian legends?
The squad itself does contain a good blend of youth and experience. Torino’s 24 year old defender Angelo Ogbonna will want to add to his three international caps, while Mario Balotelli will be hoping to increase his conversion rate for his country (one goal in eight games). Experience comes from Daniele De Rossi, Riccardo Montolivo, Antonio Di Natale, Antonio Cassano, and their star man Buffon.
Legendary midfielder Andrea Pirlo will also want to shine for his country in what could be his last major international competition.
Enter Cesare Prandelli, the anti-Lippi. The Italy of old had a way of boring their opponents into a stupor. They played effective defensive football, but that isn’t Prandelli’s mantra. The Italian coach has a strong defence at his disposal, but he likes to play a more fluid, attacking style. The side may not have scored in their last three games (including a 3-0 defeat against Russia last week), but their attacking options are strong.
Prandelli has helped nurture Balotelli and has given him a commanding role in the national set up, and followers of the EPL will know that when Super Mario is on form, he can be almost unplayable. Sadly for Italy though, he has failed to show his many talents when turning out for his country.
If Prandelli is to win Euro 2012 for Italy, then he will need to get his tactics spot on. In Buffon, he has a dominant keeper and captain, but who will line up in front of the Juventus stopper? In qualification, Prandelli was very successful and adopted a pragmatic style, 4-3-1-2 is the tactic of choice for the coach who went undefeated in reaching Euro 2012.
I expect Prandelli to use the mercurial talents of Claudio Marchisio and thread a lot of Italy’s passes through him, and the coach will also look to follow Luis Enrique’s lead at Roma and deploy Daniele De Rossi at centre-back.
The first choice striker Giuseppe Rossi will be a massive loss for Italy, but Prandelli will believe that Antonio Di Natale has enough left in him for one last hurrah for Italy.
If Italy do manage to qualify from Group C, then they will face either England, France, Sweden or Ukraine, and I believe a passage through to the semi-finals is within Italy’s grasp. The squad is definitely capable enough of winning the trophy, but this would only happen if the team’s big name players perform.
Italy need to look beyond Euro 2012 and blood more youth into their side if they are to sustain their previous dominance on world football. The conveyor belt that once churned off talent after talent is not as forthcoming as it used to be.