ITA (Marchetti; Zambrotta, Cannavaro, Chiellini, Criscito; Gattuso, De Rossi, Montolivo; Pepe, Iaquinta, Di Natale) 2, SVK 1
According to the Gazzetta dello Sport, today’s practice featured:
Defence: Zambrotta – Cannavaro – Chiellini – Criscito
Midfield: Gattuso – Montolivo – De Rossi
The front line, though, seems totally up in the air. Appartently it’s between Gilardino and Pazzini for the centre-forward role, whereas on one side it’s between Pepe and Di Natale, and on the other it’s between Iaquinta and Quagliarella.
The Corriere dello Sport, on the other hand, says preference up front will go to Iaquinta-Gilardino-Di Natale.
And this just in: Umberto Bossi says he was only kidding when he said Italy would bribe their way past Slovakia.
You will know from having read my posts and tweets — including my contributions (here and here) to the Guardian / Observer — that I’ve been predicting a slow start for Italy. The performance of the Azzurri so far has disappointed the vast majority of Italians (especially journalists), but I was interested to see Italian newspapers look back — with some despair — to 1982 for analogies. It was a real treat to read an article written by the greatest of Italian football journalists, Gianni Brera, after Italy’s second game in WC1982; here, the tone is summarized by the downbeat, yet strangely optimistic, headline: ‘Conti, Cabrini and that’s all: Nevertheless, we can do it‘.
The Gazzetta dello Sport spoke today with that team’s manager, Enzo Bearzot, about such comparisons. Bearzot believes that his team was in a much more difficult opening round than the present one, and faced a much more horrible knock-out phase in having to get past both Argentina and Brazil. He admits, though, that Maradona is right in saying everyone should fear Italy, because the Azzurri change character in the later phases of the World Cup.
In regard to Italy’s game against Slovakia: it’s silly to be opining without seeing the training sessions, and to be relying solely on media reports and gossip, but that has never stopped ‘real’ journalism before, so why change things now?
It seems Andrea Pirlo won’t be ready for Slovakia, which means we’ll see another Italy formation that pales in comparison to the one Marcello Lippi would like. But I must say — I like the sounds of what I’m hearing, regarding a possible 4-3-3 formation. Let’s look at the possible starters …
Goal: Marchetti was absolutely fine, if underworked, versus New Zealand. There has been no talk of Buffon returning any time soon, and that’s good. I really cannot see him playing later in this tournament, as the risk is too great: to his health, and to Italy’s performance.
Defence: Cannavaro has been much too harshly criticised; his play has been, if not stellar, certainly more than adequate. He has been blamed for the two goals scored against Italy, but they were patently not his fault. Chiellini has been solid, and improving with the passing of the games; he also seems to be gaining confidence coming forward. Zambrotta has been very good indeed, much better than I’d expected. Criscito has been fine, too, but he’s not untouchable; I think this might be a good moment to replace him with Maggio. So I hope to be seeing Zambrotta – Cannavaro – Chiellini – Maggio.
Midfield: Rumour has it that Lippi is leaning toward Gattuso – Montolivo – De Rossi, and I think this would be great. Montolivo and De Rossi have been the strongest players for the Azzurri so far. Montolivo’s confident play has been a bit of a surprise, but De Rossi has not shocked anyone: he was expected to be Italy’s best player, and he is also proving to be a greater leader than I’d anticipated. Gattuso is well rested, and will provide the energy that has been a little bit lacking so far, and thus free up Montolivo even more.
Forward: The attack is where things have not been clicking yet. This is partly due to the inability of the midfield, in the first two games, to free the forwards with fine passes, and partly to some reticence in breaking forward. It’s not like Luca Toni in 2006, who missed many chances but whose rampant style opened space for other Azzurri; here, Iaquinta and (especially) Gilardino simply have not been receiving the ball in the box. Twice, Di Natale has been thrown in during the match, but I sense he has not yet meshed with his colleagues; when he does, the opposition will have very much to worry about, because he can pass and he can score in very unlikely situations. My sole concern in his regard is how well he interacts without his Udinese team mate Simone Pepe; perhaps the two of them need to be on the pitch at the same time during the next game or two, but I do not think that they will both be starters against Slovakia. I think now is the best possible time to be starting Pazzini and introducing Quagliarella; not only are they likely to make things happen in the box, but they also need the opportunity of playing before the knock-out phase of the tournament. So, for the ‘trident’, I would like to see Di Natale – Pazzini – Quagliarella (as do close to half the people polled by the Gazzetta dello Sport today, as witnessed here).
Italy will feel more comfortable playing Slovakia than either Paraguay and New Zealand. Not only will the style be more familiar to them, but they also know their players better — particularly their star, Marek Hamsik, who has been disappointing so far in the tournament. Most of all, Slovakia must attack in this game, because their only hope of progressing to the next round is to win, and this will suit Italy’s mentality and style.
Che altro? The leader of Italy’s Northern League, Umberto Bossi, is (quite unsurprisingly) the most despicable person in his risible movement for the independence of Padania, or the Po Valley. Yesterday evening he stated that Italy will bribe their way to victory over Slovakia, as will be witnessed by two or three more Slovaks playing with Italian teams next year. Italian football administrators have expressed their indignation, but you have to wonder why they bother. I suppose, though, it’s another factor that will help with the siege mentality that Lippi has fostered as coach of the Azzurri, in 2006 as well as this year. It worked last time!
On Thursday I was asked to send to The Observer a preview of tomorrow’s game; here’s what I prepared for them (200 words):
By first-game standards, Italy played well against underrated Paraguay, and their physical condition was surprisingly excellent. They allowed one shot; team leader Daniele De Rossi blew that one, but he also scored Italy’s goal. Newcomers Simone Pepe and Riccardo Montolivo also played commendably. The Azzurri still need time to find their feet, awaiting Andrea Pirlo’s return (likely Thursday, against Slovakia) and losing, probably for the tournament, Gigi Buffon. This isn’t fatal: Federico Marchetti is no Buffon, but he’s excellent (Bayern has reportedly offered €15m for him already).
Italy are always confident they’ll defeat a team with a modest pedigree (‘New Zealand?’ ‘Check!’) or that is notable primarily for its strength and size (‘New Zealand?’ ‘Check!’). Sadly for the Azzurri, they often suffer against those very teams. Although Italy will switch to a more comfortable 4-4-2, they’re still finding themselves, so I predict a 1-1 draw (50% likely) or a one-goal Azzurri victory (40%). The result may dismay many, but coach Marcello Lippi and his players will take it and build for Slovakia. Starting lineup: Lippi’s still experimenting, but I think it’s Marchetti; Zambrotta, Cannavaro, Chiellini, Criscito; Pepe, Montolivo, De Rossi, Marchisio; Di Natale, Iaquinta. Most likely substitutes: Maggio, Gattuso, Pazzini.
I didn’t hear back from them to acknowledge receipt of my contribution, so I can only hope it was received and will be used in tomorrow’s paper.
The impressive performances of ‘new’ azzurri Montolivo, Pepe and Criscito give hope. Zambrotta, who also played well, can be substituted — perhaps for the New Zealand game — by another newcomer, Maggio. It would not hurt to have Cannavaro (who played a good match) replaced by Bonucci or Bocchetti for one of the next two games, either.
But am I the only person who is concerned about Buffon being substituted because of the recurrence of a back problem??? If it is indeed back-related, he will need more than the two days of rest he claims to require. I would much rather see Marchetti or (preferably) De Sanctis start the next game.
Maybe we’ll see a lineup like this one on the pitch at some point during the tournament:
Maggio – Bonucci – Chiellini – Criscito
Montolivo – Pirlo – De Rossi
Di Natale – Pazzini – Pepe
I don’t think this compares badly with the v. Paraguay lineup, do you?
As expected, Paraguay played very well. Their organization was generally impressive, and the quality of several players was really notable.
More importantly (from the Boubster’s point of view), Italy — by its standards — played well. Yes, the first half was rather painful; Marchisio couldn’t break through the midfield at all, and Gilardino received no service. More worryingly, the goal was due to a mixup in defending, of the sort one had hoped would have been taken care of during the past few weeks of practice.
Montolivo played well, and gives promise for improved confidence in upcoming games. Maybe Gilardino as a sole striker will work with a different formation; on today’s evidence, it won’t be easy for Marchisio to receive and relay passes. If anything worries me regarding today’s performance, it’s that it took the entry of Camoranesi (apart from a change to 4-4-2) to improve the level of play.
I like the idea of Di Natale coming off the bench. He didn’t do too much today, but I think his performance will improve. Pepe played very well, as did Criscito. Cannavaro, apart from the goal (which was more De Rossi’s fault), played better than I expected. Chiellini was strong, as was (again, surprisingly) Zambrotta.
I had hoped for more from Iaquinta, but he (like Gilardino) was not getting much in the way of service or assistance.
Buffon’s sciatica acted up again at half time, apparently, but Marchetti, on the few occasions he was tried, proved to be fine. (I wish Sirigu were present, instead of being sent home before the trip to South Africa.)
In all, by Azzurri standards, an acceptable and promising start.