The famous Azzurri are undoubtedly one of the most successful teams in international football. The Italians have won the ‘Holy Grail’ of football 4 times to go along with 2 silver medal finishes and a bronze medal finish. With the World Cup in Brazil just a week away, the Azzurri are a team far from perfection yet dangerous to shock even the ruthless Germans as they did in Euro 2012.
The 12-Year Phenomenon
There has been a very peculiar trend in Italy’s performances at the World Cup ever since 1970. The Azzuri make the finals of the World Cup every 12 years, irrespective of where it’s been played. From finishing as runners-up in Mexico, 1970 to winning it for the record 3rd time in Spain, 1982. The Azzurri somehow reinvented themselves every 12 years to bring to the World Cup a new squad and shock the football world. From Paolo Rossi, on who’s goals Italy claimed their 3rd title in Spain 1982 to the ‘Divine Ponytail’ of Roberto Baggio who picked up an under-performing Italy side by the scruff of its neck all the way to the finals in 1994 when the World Cup was held in the United States of America. Then in 2006 they became the unexpected champions after winning the final against France. The Azzuri always found a hero every 12 years. If one follows what history suggests then the Azzurri won’t be much of a threat this tournament, however, records are meant to be broken and a team with a certain Mario Balotelli can never be taken lightly.
Italian football and controversies go hand-in-hand. Ironically, the best performances by Italian sides have been on the back of ground-breaking controversies back home in Italy. Below are few examples.
2 years prior to their triumph in the 1982 World Cup, Italian superstar Paolo Rossi then at Perugia was part of the infamous 1980 betting scandal in the Serie A commonly known in Italy as ‘Totonero’. Rossi was banned from the national side for 3 years initially which was later reduced to 2 years allowing the mercurial striker to be a part of the Azzurri side for the 1982 World Cup. Having returned just about in time for the Finals, the Italian media ridiculed his inclusion and described him as an aimless host wandering over the field. What happened next is the stuff of dreams, Rossi didn’t only win the Golden Boot in 1982 but also won European Player of the Year along with World Player of the Year.
Similarly, just before the 2006 World Cup in Germany, the entire Serie A were embroiled with the 2006 Italian football scandal known as the ‘Calciopoli’ involving Italy’s top sides. The whole controversy was revealed to the media in May 2006 by Italian police. Involved in the Calciopoli were Serie A champions Juventus and top-sides like AC Milan, Fiorentina, Lazio, and Reggina. The whole scandal was unearthed when a number of telephone interceptions showed a thick network between team managers and referee organizations in order to influence games by either rigging them or appointing favorable referees. Juventus who were the champions of Serie A at the time were demoted to Serie B. Leaving behind all the troubles and controversies back home, the Azzurri answered all their critics and made up to their fans by bringing back the World Cup in 2006.
Cesare Prandelli has an aura of supremacy in Italian football after the inspired and unexpected showings of Euro 2012. A stickler for discipline and brave to snub out big names at will, Prandelli has picked a 23-man squad he trusts and believes will take him all the way.
In goal and leading the Azzuri is the mercurial Gianluigi Buffon of Juventus. The veteran stopper is one of the few to remain from the triumphant side of 2006. Providing back-up for Buffon is French chapions – Paris St.Germain’s Italian shot-stopper Salvatore Sirigu and Genoa’s Mattia Perin.
In defense, Prandelli has picked a majority of players from Italian heavy-weights Juventus and AC Milan. AC Milan full-backs Ignazio Abate and Mattia De Sciglio will man the side of defence for the Italians. In the heart of defence the experienced Andrea Barzagli and Giorgi Chiellini of Juventus are well backed-up by their club-mate Leonardo Bonucci along with the likes of Matteo Darmian of over-achieving Torino and Gabriel Paletta of mid-table Parma.
There is an abundance of big names to fill the Italian midfield. Led by the faultless Andrea Pirlo of Juventus, Prandelli has willful workers in the likes of Danielle De Rossi of Roma, Claudio Marchisio of Juventus and Brazilian-born Thiago Motta of Paris St. Germain. Creativity and pace is provided by the hard-working Antonio Candreva of Lazio. Marco Parolo of Parma, Former Liverpool midfielder Alberto Aquiliani of Fiorentina and the wonder-kid Marco Verratti of Paris St. Germain fill the remaining midfield places as the influential AC Milan skipper Ricardo Montolivo had to pull-out of the World Cup with an injury during the friendly against Ireland.
Unlike Euro 2012, Cesare Prandelli has an abundance of options in attack this time around. The likes of Mario Balotelli of AC Milan and Antonio Cassano of Parma who lead the line for the Italians in the Euro have more than capable replacements. Serie A top-scorer and latest Borussia Dortmund signing Ciro Immobile will look to make a big impression in Brazil as he stamps his authority on the international stage. Alessio Cerci of Torino, former team-mate of Immobile and Napoli’s wing-wizard Lorenzo Insigne provide width and pace to the Italian attack.
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Giuseppe Rossi’s exclusion
Former Manchester United and Villareal striker Giuseppe Rossi’s exclusion from the Italian squad was a huge shock both to the player and hundreds of Italian fans too. The 27 year old striker who was born in New Jersey, USA has been one of Serie A’s top performers having scored a club-high 16 goals for Fiorentina. Rossi spoke to the media about his disappointment. “I am saddened and disappointed but I will support my team-mates,” Rossi said to Gazzetta dello Sport. Rossi missed out on 2010 World Cup due to technical reasons and the Euro 2012 due to a knee injury.
For all the positives Cesare Prandelli’s men have a lot of work to do and very little time left as they iron out their quite visible flaws
Lowly Luxembourg’s shock equaliser in the recent friendly was a result of some very poor defending. Later centre-back Giorgio Chiellini admitted to their problems while facing set-pieces saying, ‘We need to pay more attention at set-pieces. We were good for 50-60 minutes but after that we got a bit stretched and we lost our heads a bit.’
AC Milan’s young full-back Mattia De Sciglio admitted to the fact that the new system they operate in ‘needs time to find its balance’ while Marco Verratti of PSG blamed the draw on new tactics saying it was ‘the first game in which we tried a new plan’.
Very Wasteful Attack
An issue openly pointed out by young De Sciglio was Italy’s lack of clinical finishing. Post the Luxembourg friendly Prandelli picked out his striker Mario Balotelli as the chief culprit, throwing away three good chances as he addressed the media saying ‘Mario had two good opportunities in the first half, and had another chance when Cassano came on,’ he said. ‘We’ve missed a few chances tonight, and then conceded a goal from a corner.’
Winless since September
The friendly against Luxebourg was the Italians’ seventh consecutive winless game. Although Chiellini’s believes that the Azzurri are not ‘great at friendlies’ but is assured of performing when it matters.
Italian boss Cesare Prandelli calmed things down saying he ‘didn’t see anything worrying’ from his side. However, the former Fiorentina boss does know that his side are lacking the flair they once had that got them to surprise one and all.