Italy down, but not out

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.
Photo: FIFA

Italy beats England and Manaus heat to start world cup campaign

Italy vs England was to be one of the classics of this world cup, and it really became one. Both teams played with a lot of zeal and enthusiasm and in the end, the side that was better on the day turned out to be the winner. 
Italy fielded just one forward in Mario Balotelli and had three changes from the side I detailed in my last post. The change meant more work for Claudio Marchisio and Antonio Candreva in the midfield. Italy lost Gigi Buffon and Mattia De Sciglio with injuries and that gave opportunities to Salvatore Sirigu and Matteo Darmian. Darmian had to take care of the right wing, which meant the regular centre-back Giorgio Chiellini had to move left and along the flank. 
Both teams started well and Italy scored first thanks to some brilliant deception technique by stand-in captain Andrea Pirlo. Pirlo jumped over a ball to deceive the Englishmen, which gave enough time to Marchisio to plan his long ranger effectively. In less than three minutes, England drew level thanks to a brilliant cross from Wayne Rooney targeting Daniel Sturridge. Balotelli tried a great slow lofted ball from almost 180 degrees, which beat the goalkeeper but was headed away to safety by English centre-back Gary Cahill.
The second half started with Italy moves and the fast Candreva created opportunity for a perfect close-in header for Balotelli. This put the Azzurri in front, a lead they maintained till the end of the game with some perfect defensive tactics. Pirlo almost scored from a curvy free kick, that deflected off the English post, much to the astonishment of a bewildered Joe Hart at the goal.
Sirigu demonstrated his talent in the absence of Italy’s regular shot stopper and he saved some long rangers with great skill and concentration. Darmian was quick on the right wing and crafted several swift moves. But the make shift left back Chiellini was not fast and most of his moves were very slow. This left Italy with attacks from one wing alone. Raheem Sterling was the star for England. He played the whole 90 minutes and justified his place in the starting lineup with some fantastic fast moves and some fearless long rangers at times. Aside from the cross that helped Sturridge score the equaliser, Rooney was nowhere near his best. He even wasted one corner kick by lobbing it behind the net.
Italy did well to score goals and defend their goal line. This would allow them to face Costa Rica and Uruguay with more confidence. They would really fancy their chances against Costa Rica and ensure their place in the pre-quarters. Even if they lost, England has a better chance of qualifying ahead of Uruguay because they have a match left against Costa Rica. England should plan well and beat Costa Rica to pile up pressure on Uruguay to win their last match against Italy.
Italy takes many positives from this match. Sirigu, who had a good outing against Ireland in one of the friendlies leading to the world cup, had an impressive game on his world cup debut. In the next match, I would like the manager Cesare Prandelli to move Chiellini back to the centre, drop Gabriel Paletta, and include De Scilio if he is fit. Else, they should bring Ignazio Abate on the right and move Darmian to the left. Marco Verratti wasn’t given enough room to work and he couldn’t make an impact in his first world cup outing. But I would like Prandelli to give him another opportunity in the next match.
Italy faces Costa Rica next, and hopefully a win will help them ensure a place in the round of 16. Go Azzurri!
Photo: FIFA

Italy kickstarts World Cup campaign today

The Italy football team completed their world cup friendlies with two draws and a win. Though the results aren’t really favourable, they should offer the supporters relief for several reasons. One, Italy does not do well in warm-up matches traditionally. Two, the win is the latest result. Three, the impressive form and gelling of Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne when the strikers have been finding it difficult to find the opposition net. Four, the full strength Italy team played only for very few minutes in these matches, and almost all the time, manager Cesare Prandelli was experimenting different players and combinations.
The draws came in matches where Italy had several opportunities to beat the rival defence, but somehow they managed to miss the target every time. Mario Balotelli surely misses the net on more occasions than he finds it, and that was not a welcome sight for a side that was dearth of making any good impact of late. It also depended on how the oppositions (Republic of Ireland and Luxembourg) lined up their back line. Every time, you could see more than six players covering the goal. 
Although Italy fielded mostly newcomers in their own back line, their second goal keeper Salvatore Sirigu was in superb touch in the match against Ireland which helped them hold on to the 0-0 result. The second line of Italy team (from the main squad) does not look very promising in defence and midfield. So if any of the obvious regulars becomes unfit, Italy will have some serious worries. The likes of Immobile and Insigne are originally expected to warm the bench and play in the second half as substitutions, but after the match against Fluminense, Prandelli may reconsider those plans. The two gelled really well and had their signatures in the goals scored. Although Balotelli assisted Claudio Marchisio in netting a goal in the match against Luxembourg, he remained mostly lacklustre. But I still feel Prandelli will give him a starting position in the group opener against England.

The following would be my starting line-up for that match in Manaus:

Formation: 4-3-1-2
  • Goal Keeper: Gigi Buffon
  • Defenders: Mattia De Sciglio, Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Bargazli, Ignazio Abate
  • Midfielders: Marco Verratti, Daniele De Rossi, Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio
  • Forwards: Ciro Immobile, Mario Balotelli

  • Substitution 1: Alessio Cerci for Verratti. This will move Marchisio back to Verratti’s place in central midfield and Cerci will take the position of 1 in the 1-2 formation upfront.
  • Substitution 2: Insigne for Balotelli. 
  • Substitution 3: Antonio Cassano for Immobile.
Owing to an injury, De Sciglio will not be available. There is doubt on Buffon too. If the former is not available, I would move Chiellini to the left and bring Leonardo Bonucci to the left side of central defence. While I do not expect Chiellini to charge down the flank, I would have Antonio Candreva for Marchisio in the midfield, who will work as a winger. This will effectively change the formation to 4-4-2. In such case, I will replace Verratti with Marchisio in the last 30 minutes. Cerci will not play. If Buffon is not available, I will have Salvatore Sirigu in the side. 

Euro 2012: Final to be a rematch of Group C opener?

History has it that Italy has never lost to Germany in a competitive football match! The Euro 2012 tournament history has it that Italy have won only one of their matches so far, and are still amongst the top four teams! They would want to better that to “the best” in Europe and go back home erasing bad memories of match fixing scandals. Though erasing the scandals wouldn’t be on coash Cesare Prandelli’s wishlist, he would definitely want to continue with his no-loss record and find a place in the UEFA Euro 2012 final.
As the semi-final is against Germany, this would be Italy’s toughest match of this campaign. Germany is in amazing form and they have a lot of finishers in their line-up, something that Italy lacks. But Italy makes that up by not conceding goals, thanks to their leakproof defence and hardworking midifield. Italy played well in both the 3-5-2 and 4-4-2 formations they tried in the other matches and I believe they would go in with a 4-4-2 against Germany too. But this time, Italy has some more injury worries to some of the key players in their formation. My preview is based on the assumption that Giorgio Chiellini, Daniele De Rossi, Ignazio Abate, and Thiago Motta are all fit and available for the semi-final. In case they are not playing, the replacements for them are also given.
Goalie would be Gigi Buffon, arguably the best in the business. Ahead of him would be Andrea Barzagli and Chiellini in central defence. Running down the right flank would be Abate and left flank would be Federico Balzaretti who showed amazing control in previous matches in collecting long balls when the midfielders switched play from the right flank to the left. Powering the diamond in the middle would be Andrea Pirlo, Thiago Motta, Daniele De Rossi, and Claudio Marchisio. In the strike, I would have Antonio Di Natale and Mario Balotelli. As in all matches, Pirlo would hold the keys to unlock the opposition goal line! If Abate is injured, they don’t have a proper right back to field as Christian Maggio would sit out this match due to the two yellow cards he picked up. If Abate or Chiellini is to miss the match, I would bring Leonardo Bonucci into the defence. If both Abate and Chiellini miss out, either De Rossi or Angelo Ogbonna would come to fill the vacancy. In case De Rossi is injured or is not moved from the midfield, it would mean that Ogbonna would play his first match of the Euro Cup. If De Rossi does not need to come to the defence but he still misses the match, Antonio Nocerino would take his place in the midfield. But if De Rossi is available in the midifeld but Motta misses out then also Nocerino would be the rescue man to fill the spot. In the worst case of both De Rossi and Motta missing out, along with Nocerino, Alessandro Dimanti would get a starting line-up position. If all is well for Italy, the three substitutes would be Diamanti, Antonio Cassano, and Nocerino. This would be the first match in the tournament for Borini. But if Nocerino and Diamanti would have to start the match then the replacements would be Riccardo Montolivo and Fabio Borini. If it happens, it would be the first match in the tournament for Borini, which would ensure that all the players except the two additional goal keepers in the side would get at least one game in this tournement. But in any case, I would go with the formation 4-4-2 which stands a great chance for Italy to overcome Germany.
On the other hand, every name in the German side is a hero. They have excellent players like Mesut Ozil and tireless workers like captain Philip Lahm, sensible midfielders like Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira, and top class finishers like Mario Gomez, Lucas Podolski, and Miroslav Klose. Like you, I also expect a very close encounter between the two world class sides. But I fancy that a one-goal difference or a shootout finish would get Italy through to the final for a re-match of the Group C opener “Italy vs Spain”.

Buffon is no buffoon, Ashleys become ashes, Hart and England suffer heartbreak in Kiev!

Italy beat England on penalties 4-2, after the two teams drew 0-0 in extra time.
Italy are through to the last four at the UEFA Euro 2012! In the quarter-final early last morning, they outperformed England in penalty kicks by 4-2 after a full time and extra time draw of 0-0. The scoreline does not reflect the way the game was played. While it was played in great spirits, Italy had more than 20 shots on target, but could not convert any. English goalkeeper Joe Hart and his defenders did a great job to keep the Italian attack at bay.
Coach Cesare Prandelli fielded an Italy team, exactly as I predicted. So was the team formation. The Azzuri enjoyed the lion’s share of possession against the Three Lions in Kiev, but the lack of finishers in the front was the downside of their game. Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano were getting the balls every seocnd minute from the hardworking midifield, but they were unable to convert those passes. For the first time in the tournament, Balotelli completed 90 minutes of play, and another 30 minutes in the extra time. Though he couldn’t convert the on-field chances, he could however, put Italy in front in the spot-kicks. Though Riccardo Montolivo wasted a kick and allowed the Englishmen to come in front, the two Ashelys (Young and Cole) turned into ashes in front of Gigi Buffon. The first one pushed it away like Montolivo did for Italy, and the second’s attempt was nullified by Buffon. The clean finish that came from the left boot of Alessandro Diamanti ensured that Italy would play Germany in the second semi-final in Warsaw. Buffon proved he was no buffoon at the goal post, but it was heartbreak for the English goalie Joe Hart.
Surprisingly, Italy reaches the semi-final with only one win and three draws! But the game against the Germans would be tougher. What gives Italy promise is that the absence of Giorgio Chiellini did not affect their performance. The second half substitues Antonio Nocerino and Diamanti must have given a world of confidence to Prandelli before the big game against the perfectionists of the world. Christian Maggio received another yellow card which means that he would sit out the semi-final. But Italy are hopeful of another enjoyable night in Warsaw. But they cannot be complacent and must ensure that they convert chances into goals to beat Germany. Yes, they have the potential to do that!

Euro Cup 2012 | Review: Italy vs Croatia

Group Stage: Match 2
Italy drew Croatia 1-1
Goal scorers: Andrea Pirlo (Italy), Mario Mandzukic (Croatia)
Italy went into their second group stage match at Poznan with the same starting line-up it used in the group opener against Spain. Coach Cesare Prandelli once again adopted the 3-5-2 formation which they used in the previous match.
Italy started the game well and had the upper hand in the first half. They took the lead through a fantastic Pirlo free kick to which the Croatian team had no answer. Mario Balotelli was wasting opportunities as usual on one side while the defence and midfield were working hard to reach the ball out to him and Antonio Cassano. Claudio Marchisio had a few back to back opportunities which he couldn’t capitalise on. After they took the lead, the Italian players looked relaxed and complacent which paved way for their downfall. The scattered defence left Mandzukic with a direct option to fire into the Italian post though centre back Giorgio Chiellini was trying hard to reach for the ball. Italians looked stunned at the equaliser.

The Italian defence started to come forward and all the back three were seen in the Croatian half. But there was a grave mistake that Prandelli committee. Though he allowed the defenders to come forward, he didn’t put any midfielder a bit up the field. The Croats looked happy with the draw as they had won their first match. Pirlo and company attempted some final moves just before the final whistle but those weren’t good enough to get them three points from this match. 

This draw throws the group wide open. Croatia leads it with four points and Italy is second with two. Every team has a chance now to move to the next round. Needless to say, Italy must win their last group match against Ireland on the morning of June 19. And they must look to win that with a more than decent goal difference. At the same time, Spain would play another crucial match against Croatia.

Euro Cup 2012 | Italy vs Croatia: Italy team preview

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!
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