As Italy prepares to take on Ireland at Poznan on Tuesday morning 0015 IST, things could go either way for Italy – a win with more than decent goal difference might place them in the knock-outs, but a win with lesser goal difference might leave things for maths to decide the qualifiers from Group C. Even worse, a 2-2 draw between Spain and Croatia also can make them exit the tournament. In any case, one thing is a must – Italy must win; and win by netting maximum goals in the Irish post. That makes things difficult for Cesare Prandelli in deciding his starting line-up. A win with maximum goal difference means they must score and at the same time prevent the opposition from scoring against them.
That must call for a change in the Italian team selection. Italy played with 3-5-2 in both their group matches so far, but that did not get them even one win. Though the Azzuris were able to score first in both matches, their lack of energy to score more paved way for their own undoing. A relaxed and complacent Italy team was stunned by the equalisers in both matches, and their five man midfield couldn’t justify the team formation.
I would field Italy with a 3-4-3 formation for this decider. Goalkeeper would be Gigi Buffon as usual. Expecting the return of Andrea Barzagli for this match, I would drop Leonardo Bonucci from the right to make place for him in the defence. Daniele De Rossi is placed in the centre and Giorgio Chiellini to his left. Midfield is where I would have some serious changes. Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio would be my central midfielders. Antonio Nocerino would the right side position in the midfield and Federico Balzaretti would take the left side. The three forwards in the starting line-up would be Sebastian Giovinco, Antonio Di Natale, and Antonio Cassano. The presence of Di Natale in the starting team would demand a half-time substitution and I prefer to see the “out-of-touch” Mario Balotelli in action from then. A substitution for Cassano would mean Fabio Borini getting his first match, and that for Nocerino would give a chance to Alessandro Diamanti. The two most important players in this side are Balzaretti and Giovinco. As Balzaretti is a sound defender, he would also have a defensive role to play during an operation at the Italian goal. This would bring Giovinco back to the midfield.
As it is, the easiest way for Italy would be to win this one and hope for a Spanish or Croatian win in the other match that takes place at the same time in Gdansk. A 0-0 or 1-1 draw there wouldn’t bother Italy if they can win with a 2-0. Almost all tie breaker permutations could apply to these two matches, but I hope Italy would do well to get 5 points and a place in the knock-outs.