World Cup football 2014
Group stage: Italy lost to Costa Rica, 0-1
Italy may have gone into their second group match against Costa Rica with the intention to win, but their starting XI did not look promising. While it was good to see Gigi Buffon back in the side, it was surprising to see Thiago Motta getting an early appearance. Maybe the manager Cesare Prandelli wanted Italy to play the holding game in the midfield. The back line was just the same as I predicted in my last post. Ignazio Abate came in on the right wing, Matteo Darmian moved to the left, and Giorgio Chiellini came to the centre. I would have given Marco Verratti another chance, but it was Motta instead who went to the pitch.
The first half saw some dull football, with Mario Balotelli wasting a few opportunities as he usually does. Balotelli seldom moved and gave the impression that he wanted the ball to find him rather than the other way. He did not have the speed or accuracy and that cost Italy dearly. Motta did not make any impact although Darmian made some advances. Pirlo was his usual self. In the dying minutes of the first half, Costa Rica scored an impressive goal to take the lead. Buffon could not do much as the ball hit the cross bar and then went past the goal line.
The second half saw Italy going in with Antonio Cassano instead of Motta. Italy played good attacking football in this half, but could not score goals. Cassano missed direction from a curvy corner kick from Alessio Cerci. The substitutions were hard to understand as well. Antonio Candreva and Claudio Marchisio were replaced with two strikers Lorenzo Insigne and Cerci, but there was no sight of Ciro Immobile, their best bet who was warming the bench. I don’t remember any match in which Italy played four regular forwards all at once. Balotelli played the entire 90 minutes without making any impact other than getting a yellow card for himself. Costa Rica played very good holding game in the second half to keep their lead intact, a group attempt in which they succeeded. They also deployed the off-side trap very effectively against Italy forwards in the second half. They have qualified now to the second stage of the competition, knocking out England.
With England out, the group of death is really turning into one. Either Italy or Uruguay will also see the exit door from this group, which nobody expected at the start of the tournament. Although they lost today, Italy has a strong chance of advancing to the next level. They can qualify if they get at least a draw in their last group match against Uruguay. But for Uruguay, a win is a must. So in all likelihood, the last match of the group will be a real thriller. I would like to see the coach making some adjustments in the team for the last match. He should bring in either Alberto Aquilani or Marco Parolo to the midfield and drop Motta. If there is only one striker up front, it should be Immobile and not Balotelli. If Mattia De Sciglio comes back, Darmian should go to the right wing instead of Abate. They may also think about playing two forwards Immobile and Insigne together. In that case, I would like to see Candreva deployed on the right wing instead of Abate.
There is bad news for Italy that they may miss Daniele De Rossi for the final group match against Uruguay. De Rossi is a main stay at the back of the midfield and has very strong defensive skills. If he misses out, I think Prandelli might deploy Thiago Motta in this role. So this is the team I predict:
Buffon – De Sciglio, Chiellini, Barzagli, Bonucci – Marchisio, Motta, Pirlo, Aquilani, Candreva – Immobile
De Sciglio moves forward along the left flank and Candreva on the right. This will allow the all Juventus back three to guard the goal. Midifled will be very strong, with Candreva charging along the right flank with assistance from Aquilani. If the opposition defence heavily marks the lone striker, both Marchisio and Aquilani can try long rangers too. Possible substitutions are Insigne for Marchisio and Marco Parolo for Candreva.