Italia Destiny

As a big fan of Italian football my expectations were low as start of the 2012 UEFA European Championship approached. After the Azzurri crashed out in South Africa in 2010, I thought their approach this season didn’t provide enough experience to compete on the international level. Yet their convincing 2-1 victory over Germany in the semi-finals has reignited the excitement we experienced in 2008 when Italy defeated France to win the World Cup in Germany.

There are only a few holdovers from the 2008 World Cup team, including world class keeper, Gigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo, both of whom bring experience and leadership to the 2012 UEFA squad (DeRossi and Barzagli were also on the ’08 squad). The 2010 World Cup was a forgettable event for Italy. Injuries to both Buffon and Pirlo, as well as an aging Azzurri saw them crash out in the group stage, finishing last. It was truly a low point for Italian football.

Enter Cesare Prandelli, succeeding 2006 World Cup manager, Marcello Lippi, who was a favorite, but rather set in his way when it came to the “old guard” who has worn the kit of the Azzurri. Prandelli wasn’t afraid to make changes, which he did. Many of the well known, now aging footballers were not recalled for international duty, the up and coming younger names got their chance.

Expectations, in my mind were not high entering this tournament, but the team did seem to have a good mix of old and new. It comes as no surprise that Buffon (119 caps) and Pilro (88 caps) are leading the way for Italia at age 33 and 34 respectively. On the other end are the young guns, players like Mario Balotelli, 21 years old (13 caps) and Riccardo Montolivo, 27 (36 caps) and Claudio Marchisio, 26 years old (25 caps). These will be names representing Italy in Brazil in the 2014 World Cup.

While their success in Euro 2012 has been wonderful, I believe it could be short lived. It’s great to see Balotelli playing very well (4 goals) and better yet, keep his head together and playing like the up and coming superstar he could he. There’s also some good younger talent in the midfield, but no “maestro” like Pirlo to control the game. I like Daniele De Rossi, but he is more of a defensive midfielder and doesn’t manage the game like Pirlo. We might have to wait and see, Pirlo will be 35 when the World Cup rolls around, he might be available for Brazil.

Mario Ballotelli has been playing above expectations. The knock against him has been his “disciplinary problems” a few years back at Inter while Jose Mourinho was manager. “Balotelli continued to be the subject of racist chants throughout the season, becoming the focus of Juventus fans even during games not involving Inter, leading to Juventus being fined twice and the club ultimately punished with a partial stadium closure” (source). Now at Manchester City under Roberto Mancini, Ballotelli has been playing much better. During this tournament he is garnering consideration as player of the tournament.

More pressing issues are in goal. Behind Buffon is a total of 7 caps between  Salvatore Sigiru (age 25) and Morgan De Sanctis (age 35). At age 34, I could see Buffon returning for one more shot at glory in Brazil. Hopefully during that time we could see another keeper step up and represent the national team. The only other recent call up was Emiliano Viviano (6 caps). Buffon’s leadership and experience has made the best keeper in the world and has put Italy into the position they are in now, to possibly win Euro 2012 when they face Spain on Sunday.

Regardless of the outcome this weekend, Italy’s national team and fans should be proud at how the team has come together and played the last month. It does provide fans with a bright future with young talent being capped. Still there are some questions to answer. With any luck it will be the guidance of Prandelli and the combination of young talent and experience that wins the Henri Delaunay Trophy and allows Italy to qualify and be competitive for World Cup 2014.

Italy Doesn’t Advance

The 4-time World Cup Champions, Italy are going home. Their performance has been deplorable! From their initial group stage match until the introduction of Andrea Pirlo, during the 56th minute of their match with Slovakia, the drive, creativity and play making of the Azzurri was missing.

Questions will be raised as to the decisions of Marcelo Lippi, his squad, his tactics and his desire to guide the nation through the 2010 World Cup. Unfortunately, one thing he cannot do is step on the pitch, unlike his selection of the starting XI.

Italy was beset with injuries to Gigi Buffon during the first match with Paraguay. A reoccurring back injury has caused him to miss the remaining two games. This was probably the biggest loss to the team, since he was one of the leaders of the team. Federico Marchetti was his replacement during the match with only 7 caps on his resume. There are no ways around this, Buffon’s loss was crucial. Maybe in 4 years Marchetti will be ready on the international level.

The other injury was to Andrea Pirlo, who was the master of the midfield for Italy. His decision and play making in the midfield helped Italy win the cup 4 years ago, but with his current injury there was no one to step up and fill his boots. Riccardo Montolivo was his replacement, but Montolivo is highly inexperienced on the national level and not the same type of player as Pirlo.

The strikers were probably the worst of the group. I am not sure why Lippi decided to stick with Iaquinta. His play was terrible in 2006 and no better in 2010. While he does have a nose for goal inside the 6 yard box, he brought very little to the offensive attack for Italy. Alberto Gilardino was missing in action. Younger players like Pazzini, Quagliarelli and Di Natale (the future) all saw limited action. Not calling up the likes of Rossi, Cassano, Boriello and even Balotelli will be questioned.

I know this has been mentioned before, but there was no on pitch leadership the likes of Francesco Totti. Maybe I am still living in the past, but Totti brought so much to the squad when on the pitch. His leadership was invaluable and there were no current players who stepped up to fill that role.

The creativity, decision making and play making of the Italians was missing. They were not playing with any heart through out the tournament. Only for a brief moment did we see them switch gears, which led to their goal versus Slovakia. Outside of that moment, the performance of Italy was terrible. We kept saying, “next game,” well during the last match we look back and contempt why we did not advance out of the group.

I guess we look forward to the Prandelli era for the Azzuri, as Lippi steps down now and start working for Euro 2012 and the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. None of the old guard will remain, names like Pirlo, Gattuso, Buffon, Iaquinta and Cannavaro will all be gone.