If you happened to read my blog during the 2006 World Cup, 2008 Euro Cup, or 2010 World Cup then perhaps you would remember that I am a huge fan of Italian football. I predicted the Italy win in 2006 even before their campaign commenced, against all odds and they eventually went on to lift up the holy grail! [Here they are: 2006 World Cup preview, first round analyses (Ghana, USA, Czech Republic), knock-out analysis (Australia, Ukraine), semi final analysis (Germany) and the final preview and analysis]. But things weren’t good for them since then. They lost to Spain in penalties and went out without seeing the semis of 2008 Euro Cup [My preview and results]. The 2010 World Cup was a misery for them and they lost in the first round itself. [My preview and round one analyses (Paraguay, New Zealand, Slovakia)]. But they did well in the 2012 Euro Cup qualifiers and never lost any of their matches and come to the tournament with a goal difference of +18!
In 2012 Euro Cup, Italy is in Group C with Spain, Ireland, and Croatia. Things are not good for Italy this time too. They lost their last three international friendly matches and are also haunted by the match fixing scandals back home. There were similar scandals during their 1982 and 2006 World Cup campaigns, but they came back strongly to win the cup. I hope this time too, their will to win will make them do well in the group matches and knock-outs.
Let’s see who coach Cesare Prandelli has selected to wear the azzuri jerseys in Poland and Ukraine, and what his plans are. Though the new coach has realised the importance of attacking football, defence remains the main strength of their game. Italy has been going in with 4-3-1-2 ever since I seriously started following their game (and even much before that time!), but the recent losses in friendlies and selection worries may tempt Prandelli to attempt a 5-3-2 formation (or read 3-5-2) with wing backs on either sides.
At the goal is still the living legend, Gianluigi Buffon, the captain. Italy has always been known for their water-tight defence and in the modern times, Buffon has been responsible for keeping up that reputation. Though Italy lost 0-3 to Russia in the preparation match, one must consider that Buffon was substituted during the half-time, and all the goals were netted when Morgan De Sanctis was standing. Defence is where Italy has worries. Dominico Criscito is out of the team being entangled in the match fixing controversies and the raids that followed and Andrea Barzagli is injured and unavailable at least during the group stage. So I would place Giorgio Chiellini on the left, the “experiment kid” Daniele De Rossi in the middle, and Leonardo Bonucci on the right as centre backs. Italy may entrust the task of filling the back three to De Rossi which surely is a gamble, but De Rossi has the experience of 70+ internationals and he should do a fair job there.
I would give the left wing back position to Federico Balzaretti. Since Christian Maggio was totally off-colour against Russia, I would have the speedster Ignazio Abate taking his place on the right wing. I would make the playmaker Andrea Pirlo lie deep in the middle, and the hard worker Claudio Marchisio on his left. Though I would like to experiment with Antonio Nocerino in the midfield, I would still go with the experienced Riccardo Montolivo as the one lying behind the strikers on the right. As the two strikers, I would have the mercurial Antonio Cassano and the talented Mario Balotelli up front. There is news that Balotelli is also injured. In that case, I would go with Sebastian Giovinco.
Italy is almost sure of going into the knock-outs along with Spain from their group. In the knock-outs they would face either England or France. If they advance to the semis, they would face the Netherlands and if they get a final berth, it would be either Germany or Spain facing them. The draw is really tough for the azzuris. But who wants to predict; another scandal back home, a good mix of experienced and fresh legs on the pitch, and a totally unpredictable formation – Gigi Buffon and company may spring a surprise this time!