Eurozone: Group D a Delight for Italy
So for a minute on Monday night it looked like Italy would top Group C, setting themselves up for a tie with the Group D runners-up. In the end, they took their predicted runner-up position and were expecting to face a French team that, as Greg has covered, possess great talent with the generation ’87. It is a French unit who, despite what their subsequent result against Sweden would suggest, know how to play tournament football and have built for this tournament in particular. Italy would not have fancied renewing this age-old rivalry in the quarter-finals. Millennia of invading one another, Papal disputes and a Zidane headbutt would have been stirred to create the atmosphere of a hostile amphitheatre in Kiev on Sunday night. As they showed against Ireland, the Italians tend to quake when the game is taken to them. We leak chances and make mistakes when under pressure, especially when lacking a commander like Chiellini. Unfortunately, it seems Italy will be Chiellini-less for the quarter-final. As all of Italy’s games have shown, they have been hanging on and have looked tired in the last quarter. So there you go, like a true fan, this Fresh Air blogger has started to pick apart his own team’s faults.
But Italy have found themselves a pearler of a tie in England. A team prone to defensive mistakes, unable to keep possession, with a strong reliability on one player for goals, and a team that, ultimately, will not take the game to Italy in the way Croatia or Ireland did. The movement of Italy’s forwards will cause great problems for Terry and Lescott. With Parker and Gerrard having to deal with the creativity of Pirlo and Motta, it is likely to prevent their own ability to create. Abate has looked like a bright outlet from full-back, whilst both Cassano and Balotelli proved against Ireland, though perhaps not world-class with half chances, they can do something a bit special to score goals. Crucially, as this tournament progresses into the knockout stages, it adopts a whole new psychology. Italy will much rather face an England who last reached a semi-final on foreign soil in 1990 than a French team who have reached 3 finals and one semi-final in major tournaments since then.
Italy were lucky in the group stages and gave their opponents far too many chances towards the end of the game. Perhaps this is expected when Pirlo, the team puppeteer, is 33 and the Colonel Buffon is 34. However, they will look at England and see a team that fortune has beamed upon throughout 270 minutes of group-stage football – and not just towards the end of the games. Fatigue is a weakness for the Italians, but with the best part of a weeks rest they can now regroup, focus on their strengths of creativity and fluidity and pick apart the weaknesses of the English team. Especially with Chiellini missing, preparation will be crucial to reform their watertight defense. Don’t be surprised to see the Italians practicing penalties in training too. But preparation and Italy are like tomato and mozzarella. Italy will have no trouble firing themselves up for a clash with England, with many individuals, Diamanti and Balotelli most notably, who would be first in the queue to put the dagger in the heart of their doubting English critics. Most importantly, Italy can revive a mentality of knock-out tournament football that, despite the triumph of English domestic teams, can easily overpower the English national team.
Cesare Prandelli has said ‘we can beat anyone’. Unlike Neapolitan bin-men the Italy team are more than prepared to dispense with rubbish and once into the semi-finals, who knows what Prandelli can achieve with what many had dismissed as an inept and corrupt rabble?