Cesare Prandelli started his adventure as technical director of the Italian national team around the time when the nation reached its lowest point in it’s footballing history, just after the South African 2010 World Cup, the team was knocked out in the group stage without winning a single game (2 draws and 1 loss) despite the relatively modest opponents in the group (Paraguay, Slovakia and New Zealand). Since his appointment following the 2010 World Cup, Prandelli has always tried to call up new and young players, leaving Lippi’s ‘vecchia guardia’ behind and while this brought enthusiasm at the beginning of the process, this soon faded and criticism about Italy’s style has hit the Azzurri in the past couple of years.
After qualifying for Euro 2012, a couple of friendlies played in November 2011 and February 2012 respectively against Uruguay and USA, rang the alarm bell, with good quality opponents Italy have struggled, and despite playing better in both games they ended up losing both (0-1 in both occasions) mostly due to their incapacity to convert the chances created. The warning was well received by Prandelli as well and the manager in his provisional squad for the Euros decided to completely modify the attacking department, where apart from influential players Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli, the other 4 strikers (Mattia Destro, Fabio Borini, Sebastian Giovinco and Antonio Di Natale) had played just a combined 123 minutes in the Euro 2012 Qualification Group Stage. Destro was eventually cut from the 23-man squad but Prandelli’s intent of using up and coming talent is evident to see.
Since his appointment following the 2010 World Cup, Prandelli has always tried to call up new and young players
The long term injury of Giuseppe Rossi who will be forced out until 2013 and the recently under-performing players like Gilardino, Pazzini, Borriello and Matri have resulted in Prandelli giving Antonio Di Natale his last chance to make an impact at International level while promoting promising youngsters like Fabio Borini, who has exceeded expectations at AS Roma this season.
In defence and midfield, over the last 2 years, the manager has been very consistent with his selections and apart from a few surprises in the provisional 32 men squad, like Pescara playmaker Marco Verratti, Atalanta winger Ezequiel Schelotto and midfielder Luca Cigarini who had all been cut for the 25-man list, there were no surprises.
The Calcioscommesse scandal hit the national team as well and the manager has excluded Zenit St. Petersburg defender Domenico Criscito from the squad, who is now under investigation for fixing games when he was at Genoa. Another player whose international future seemed to be at stake is Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci, who could be investigated as well for some games that were played when he was at Bari, he has however been included in the final 23-man squad.
Daniele De Rossi was very honest in an interview released just the day before the friendly vs Luxembourg and said ‘In my opinion, it’s worse than in 2006 (Calciopoli). Then, directors were involved, now some of my friends and Italy teammates like Mauri. With so many arrested and under investigation it’s difficult that they all come out clean. This investigation is more important than a European Championship, there’s no doubt about it.’
Gianluigi Buffon has admitted that reaching a Semi-final would be an excellent tournament for the Azzurri given their expectations. The group stage with Spain, Croatia and Republic of Ireland can be troubling, also considering how Italy historically struggle at the beginning of these competitions, so the team will need some solid performances to go through. Another important aspect to consider is that 5 Juve players should be starters in the side and after a fantastic season, going 110% from August until May, it is fair to question whether they will have enough gas left in the tank to keep the intensity up for 1 more month, in fact already in the Coppa Italia final played between the Serie A champions and Napoli, the Bianconeri did not look as good as they did throughout the entire season and Napoli won the game 2-0.
Many Italians have remembered how just before the 2006 WC Italy was hit by the Calciopoli scandal and on July 9th the Azzurri lifted the World Cup in Berlin, will history repeat itself here after the Calcioscommesse storm hit the country? It seems unlikely.
Predicted Line-up (4-3-1-2)
Buffon; Maggio, Chiellini, Barzagli, Balzaretti; Pirlo, De Rossi, Thiago Motta; Marchisio; Cassano, Balotelli
The likely outcome for Italy will be as runners-up in Group C and losing to France in the quarter-finals (depending on the outcome of Group D).
- Luca Maurelli (Italy Serie A Analyst), follow me @FRcalcioLuca