Italy secured an impressive draw against Spain in their Group C opening match at the Euro Cup 2012 at Gdansk. Tonight they will take the field against Croatia. I get a feeling that this will be a more exciting match that their first one. Independent Croatia has not lost a game against Italy. That means, in the last 21 years, Italy was never able to beat them! That is some record!
Italy must show the attitude to win this one for keeping alive their prospects for a knock-out berth. They have the last match in the group stage against Ireland, but if they leave things that far then they would have to depend on fortunes and maths to get a place in the next round. I don’t think coach Cesare Prandelli and company would like to leave it to the last.
Croatia has a very strong team which is good in the midfield and attack too. While Italy must score goals to win this one, they must also ensure that their defence does not leak. So, over the 3-5-2 formation that was adopted against Spain, I prefer to see a 4-4-2 formation to start with. For me, that would sacrifice Christian Maggio from the right wing position and fit Federico Balzaretti to the left back position. It would strengthen the defence with four in the back, with Daniele De Rossi and Giorgio Chiellini as centre backs and Leonardo Bonucci on the right back position and Balzaretti on the left back. At the goal would be Gigi Buffon as usual. In the midfield, I would go with Thiago Motta on the right, Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio in the middle, and Sebastian Giovinco on the left. Though Mario Balotelli was totally off-colour in the opening match, I would give him another chance to wipe off the bad memories from that match. Balotelli is an impressive footballer and I don’t expect him to make those mistakes again. I considered a place in the starting line-up for Antonio Di Natale, but he might not have the full energy to run the entire 90 minutes of it. Moreover, he is a sure shot goal scorer when the team badly needs them. If any of the strikers go bad, may be Prandelli can field Di Natale for the entire second half. Along with Balotelli, would be Antonio Cassano in the strike.
When the team focusses on an all-out attack, I would move De Rossi ahead from the back and play him as a defensive midfielder, giving support to Pirlo and Marchisio. De Rossi is the key of this formation as it can get to a dynamic 3-5-2 with his versatility. Hope Prandelli and company would do something wise tonight and spare the followers from doing the maths before the last game. Go Azzuri!