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Friday June 28 2013
A precious defeat for Italy

Italy’s Confederations Cup bid ended on penalties against Spain following an epic contest, but Luca Cetta praises the defeated Azzurri for their best showing in Brazil.

Given their most recent meeting and the group stage results, this was supposed to be a one-sided affair. An easy Spanish passage to the Confederations Cup Final. The Brazil-Spain Final script had already been written, except Italy were not handed the memo. They were determined this match would be nothing like their last encounter.

Sad news came through less than two hours before kick-off that ex-Fiorentina, Milan and Italy striker Stefano Borgonovo lost his battle with ALS, aged 49. Then, for 120 minutes at the Estádio Castelão in Fortaleza against the World and European Champions, the Azzurri gave their best performance of the tournament.

It was a showing of grit, style and tactical nous – a truly worthy display. Only the old bête noire of penalties denied a place in the Final following an absorbing 0-0 draw, Leonardo Bonucci the player to falter from the spot as it ended 7-6. Deadlocked through normal and extra time in the sapping heat, both sides were collected and clinical from 12 yards.

This was a different Azzurri than seen previously in Brazil. They’ve been involved in two goalfests – games riddled with errors – but here looked polished. The defence, criticised for conceding eight goals in three matches, proved solid and assuring. Italy reduced Spain to few clear-cut chances, even if they retained the majority of possession. A big part of the reason was the change in system.

Think back to a year ago. Italy surprised by playing a 3-5-2 in the opening match of Euro 2012. They earned a 1-1 draw in Gdansk and pushed Spain all the way. Vicente Del Bosque admitted on Wednesday his side were second best then. When they met in the Final in Kiev, Cesare Prandelli reverted to his favoured four man defence and trequartista. Italy did not look the same side as they fell to defeat.

What the Fortaleza match has shown is that a three-man defence, popular in Serie A, could well be the way forward for this Italian side. Given the team is littered with Juventus players – seven of the Fortaleza starting XI don the Bianconeri shirt – it makes sense. It can also get the best out of others. The formation was slightly altered here to more of a 3-4-2-1 and sometimes saw both attacking midfielders drop deeper, but fundamentals of the system were evident.

The non-Juventini also looked at home on Thursday. Daniele De Rossi, like a year ago, found himself utilised as an emergency central defender when Andrea Barzagli went off at the interval. In both that role and his more traditional midfield position, the Roma man shone. Christian Maggio was another to benefit. He is an example of a player lost in the back four, but excellent in his natural role. The Napoli player – along with the equally impressive Antonio Candreva – had free rein of the right flank in the first half. This forced Del Bosque to change. Candreva was a tireless worker off the ball and an outlet in possession.

Meanwhile, Alberto Gilardino had the difficult task of replacing Mario Balotelli and while not testing Iker Casillas as much as he would’ve liked, he put in an honest and busy shift. Special mention to one of the Bianconeri, with Emanuele Giaccherini continuing his impressive tournament. Fielded here as a wing-back, his battery never died and he caused continual concern for the Spanish.

It’s hard to find fault with any of the players, but perhaps the substitutes did not influence as needed. Sebastian Giovinco and Alberto Aquilani failed to get into the game. In saying that, even when Riccardo Montolivo moved into De Rossi’s position alongside Andrea Pirlo the intensity did not let up. Nor did Italy hand Spain the initiative for prolonged periods. Spain were left chasing the ball. Spain were the ones shutting down space with 11 men behind the ball. How many times has that occurred in the past five years?

The only negative was Italy’s inability to finish chances. They did enough to win in 90 minutes. Claudio Marchisio saw a diving header flash wide, while the marauding Maggio was twice foiled by Casillas. Giaccherini thumped the post and then as Spain took extra-time ascendency, Xavi did the same.

In a side shorn of Balotelli, the options looked limited in attack. This is an issue to mull over in the next 12 months but if a 3-5-2 is the way forward, the Milan man needs a regular partner. Preferably somebody to link him and the midfield. Could it be Antonio Cassano? Perhaps Lorenzo Insigne? The options are there.

Prandelli must settle on a formation. He was reluctant to go to a back three until this match, but a porous Azzurri looked shaky in the group stage with a four-man defence. Compare that to the performance on Thursday. The case sample for a trio is small – it has worked with Spain, but less effective versus Croatia and Bulgaria – yet should seriously be considered given the players available. It may add an extra defender, but doesn’t mean Italy cannot control possession or create chances. This match showed that.

Italy have one match left, the third-fourth playoff against Uruguay on Sunday. Given the weary bodies and quick turnaround it’s likely there will be changes aplenty. The Azzurri will aim to leave Brazil on a winning note but while it may not have felt like it when Jesus Navas converted, they’ve already reached their high point. The semi-final proved Italy can be considered contenders come next June.

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Have your say...
Jj coyle, is the J short for Jessica? No need to defend buffoon. I'm not denying he is one of the greats. What I am saying is he sucks in shoot outs and he is no longer reliable. The history you bought up only serves to reinforce my view he sucks at penalties. You have a lot of time on your hands so you can conduct the research, I'm just making it clear he sucked against Spain and France. If i went into a casino playing red and black and i didnt win once in 15 goes clearly i wud suck.
on the 30th June, 2013 at 6:34pm
@JJ cole "Closet rasists?" The problem balo has is all to do with the hype. You clearly dont understand football. don't come on here complaining about azzurri fans having genuine concerns with balo/gila. And definetly don't scream out racism; criticism doesn't mean we are rasist you narrow minded let's all praise him good or bad show just in case ppl like JJ think we're rasist!! no1 said anything about his colour, constructive critism, ppl like you start wars, take you rasist crap elsewher
on the 30th June, 2013 at 6:08pm
@anonymous

I see your still to much of a coward to state your name. I said beckham had similarities to what pirlo posses yes. And at peak he was just as good as pirlo however not as consistent.
Passing accuracy, crosses and set pieces beckham use to be great at. Denying that only make you look foolish. This comes from a Milan and pirlo fan and not a beckham fan. I'm just stating something obvious.
on the 30th June, 2013 at 5:56pm
Balotelli doesn't care about all the hype. He has been seeing these hyperbole reactions for the past 6 years. Scoring for him is like a postman delivering the mail, remember? Gila, after Mario is the best at holding up the ball. He has great aerial ability, but he didn’t get the type of service he needs. After seeing him in Germany 06, I refute the claims he is garbage, although it must be said Italy are light in the absence of Mario.Spoilt kids always complain and Azzurri fans we're all guilty
on the 30th June, 2013 at 4:45pm
@ BOSS

"Castilian didnt make a save, but his recent penalty shoot out history is much better then buffoons"

Ok, what recent history? Oh, you mean Buffon saving the Azzurri against England shoot-out in 2012?

Or you mean 'Castilian' being nothing but a benchwarmer for the last 4 months or so? That's recent.

Troll, stop embarrassing yourself too. You're buffooning yourself up in here.

Ignoramus !
on the 30th June, 2013 at 4:23pm
Forget giaccherini in my squad as well. Look at my 25 man squad including giaccherini, thats the squad to take to world cup. Forza italia.
on the 30th June, 2013 at 3:33pm
@maradonamac10

Im with totally with you on the balotelli issue. Italy are better without him, if we treated him like a player and not our saviour then hed be much more effective for us all. No point arguing with viktor thats the very man that tried to tell us beckham was the same level as pirlo. I tend to ingnore most things hes said since!!!!
Prandelli squad selection let us down. Gilardino should not be allowed on a pitch at all let alone our only striker!
on the 30th June, 2013 at 3:26pm
@ Zoli
Points 1+2: Because Italy profits if pace is lower and Spain needs breaks. Less spanish pressing after losing the ball, therefore more possession for Italy and more time to create own actions. More playing, less "being hunted". The lower the pace the better the chances for Italy against Spain, also against Germany or Netherlands. So maybe good for Italy that the world cup is in Brazil.
Point 3: Regarding penalties, Buffon has lost sharpness.
on the 30th June, 2013 at 3:14pm
The two goals against Germany were a clear demonstration. Pressure doesn’t faze Mario. Penalties – 100%, semi-final display, both brazil games, Manchester Derby performance away – protagonist in 6-1 etc. If we talk about Mario’s club career to date – it has lacked stability, though not medals. But in the Azzurri shirt he has been WORLDCLASS!!! Consistent, hardworking, full of quality play and great goals. Did anyone see his back-heel to Giaccherini. (closet racists?) I'm baffled!!!
on the 30th June, 2013 at 2:44pm
The criticism for Mario is unbelievable. The second quickest player in Azzurri history to reach 10 goals, and by the time he is finished he may finish the all-time Italian top scorer. Mario has been playing the sole striker role for just a short period and has shown he can come deep, hold up or create, or run in behind, as well as spinning players. When you say world class, we are comparing him to top number nines in the game. And at just 22 he is certainly that. (1/2)
on the 30th June, 2013 at 2:42pm
Maradonamac10 - you are NOT an Azzurri fan. Simple. And to say Italy are better without Balotelli is a CRAZY thing to say. He is, by far, our best attacking option and it is proven that he causes defences problems. Yes, he is young. Yes, he is sometimes erratic and Yes, sometimes he likes to shoot from far out. But, if you can tell me another target man/striker better than him in Italy right now i'll be amazed. You sound like a typical hater not ready for diversity!
on the 30th June, 2013 at 2:23pm
@mustafarta

"What a bunch of wagons"?

Are you using google translate or what is going on? True milanistas? True enough to haven't missed a game in 22 years. Balotelli is awesome and so is ses.
Not sure what your trying to say?
on the 30th June, 2013 at 2:10pm
Boss, Do I really need to defend Buffon? What about his pen saves against A.Cole(Euro12),Mutu(Euro08),Hawn Ahn(WC02). He has also saved club pens from Baggio 88% (one of the best percentages in Serie A), Totti, Figo, and Ronaldo. He is 17saves from 68pens not including shoot outs. 1 in 4. Please! One of the ALL-TIME greats, if not the greatest, and you cant even spell his name correctly! So disrepectful!

Mi dispiace, SMH
on the 30th June, 2013 at 1:47pm
How does a manager of Italy present himself to a tournament with 2 strikers; ball unsettles the team coz he is treated like a system is made for him and the other, gilardino who is the most useless player and striker to ever put on a football top! Prandelli is not strong minded enough for this job, he has no idea how to pick a team/formation or anything. Let's hope he gets 1 thing rite and sticks with 352, but he's likely to change is all again might even see aquilani as a lone striker soon too!
on the 30th June, 2013 at 1:33pm
Italy do play better without balo. Problem is not that we don't have other strikers but that prandelli has a love affair with the worst player on earth, gilardino. He could have brought matri, pazzini, qualliarella, even di natale, any of these players would be more effective than waste of space! Prandelli indecisive character is the problem, he doesn't know what system/team/players he wants, his subs are even worse how can you put giovinco upfront with a system that relays on crossing
on the 30th June, 2013 at 1:26pm
Mustuffa, i can hardly make any sense of your comments you sound like a moaning little girl. Learn English then come back.

Zoli, Castilian didnt make a save, but his recent penalty shoot out history is much better then buffoons. What happened with xavi's shot straight at buffoon who then goes and pushes it against the post. I like buffoon, but he should be subbed prior to any shoot out as he is useless. Three shoot outs with France and Spain twice and no saves is appalling.
on the 30th June, 2013 at 12:58pm
Great Article that I thoroughly enjoyed. I think this confederations cup has defined two things 1) Italy are adaptable 2) We will be competitive next year in Brazil. As a fan I don't criticize our players. It is the coach's job to pick the squad and back CP. Tactically, CP has shown he is a top class coach, my only worry is that without Balotelli Italy lack a real threat upfront. From what I've seen this season Osvaldo could be a possible back up. Forza Italia Per Sempre!
on the 30th June, 2013 at 12:33pm
My idea for the 2014 wc squad
GK-Buffon (Sirigu)
LB-Abate (Maggio)
CB-Chiellini (Bonnuci) (Barzagli) 
RB-De Sciglio (Peluso)
CDM-Pirlo (De Rossi) (Motta)
CM-Montolivo (Diamanti)
LM-Candreva 
RM-Giaccherini
CAM-Giovinco (Marchisio)
LS-El Sharaawy (Cassano)
RS-Balotelli (Destro) (Borini)

Please let me know what you think
on the 30th June, 2013 at 12:32pm
In the Euro Final, CP opted to remain with a 4312, which he favoured. Considering both 352 performances against Spain this was a mistake. To be fair to CP, Italy had defeated Spain and were superior using that same 4312 in the Bari friendly. Also CP, learned tactically from the final.

A change to a 352 permanently will cause problems at some stage, like when different defenders have to step in who are accustomed to that system. We should not shackle ourselves, but be adaptable.

(2/2)
on the 30th June, 2013 at 11:32am
When you analyse how far the Azzurri have come since the last Confederations Cup, you can't but admire their progress.

This article is good in many aspects, however, I feel that although the 3-5-2 works particularly well against Spain, we shouldn’t abandon all other tactical systems we have trialled. Performances against, England, Germany, and more recently Mexico were outstanding. As different teams pose different threats, it would be useful to be able to adapt and make adjustments.

(1/2)
on the 30th June, 2013 at 10:59am
In my view the players that arent good enough are: sirigu, astori, santon, ranocchia, poli, aquiliani, giovinco, gilardino. I like borini and destro but they are still a way off for me. Gabbiadini and Leali in a few years ie euro 2016.
on the 29th June, 2013 at 10:32pm
If the wc was tomorrow my squad would be Buffon. Marchetti, Bardi, Maggio, chiellini, barza, bonucci, roncaglia, ogbonna, de sciglio, abate, de rossi, pirlo, verratti, monty, candreva, marchisio, diamanti, balo, di natale, osvaldo, cassano, rossi, el sha.
on the 29th June, 2013 at 10:26pm
Prandelli must leave his blue eye boys at home and take players who seriously deserve to make the team. Gilardino is a has been, there are so many other strikers that are better then him...
on the 29th June, 2013 at 6:26pm
1)unless Spain trains and plays in Nunavut, I'd like an explanation on how certain conditions can be attributed to the determent/compliment of one team and not the other - I didn't see stewards holding an umbrella and an AC next to the Italian players

2)the only added heat and humidity Spain had to deal with came from their own sweat caused by a superb Italian performance

3) Casillas didn't save any penalties either - should he be fired too ?

4) Spain's dominance is far from over
on the 29th June, 2013 at 5:18pm
@Tino Baggio


Italy have tons of young talent at the moment I agree however I don't believe there is a better striker thats Italian then Balotelli. Currently he's the strongest, fastest and most effective there is.
on the 29th June, 2013 at 5:10pm
Italy can play without Balotelli and it was proved, in fact there are a few better Italian strikers than him in serie a. Balotelli is good but a liabilty because of his attitude and is not a team player. He scores only penalties and is in the papers for all the wrong reasons and that is why people think he is good! Di Natale is way better even at his age!
on the 29th June, 2013 at 5:06pm
Bitterness smells all over this blog. Napoli and Milan fans, especially who consider themselves real Milanistas. When I said Abate and De Sciglio should not play, they made fools out of themselves. And when I said Azzurri should switch with three defenders, they say Juventino fanatic. Now, they changed the subjet saying Balotelli is a world class, then will say so is SES.

I say, go play PS3 and support your national teams. This is La Nazionale place.

What a bunch of wagons.
on the 29th June, 2013 at 4:59pm
@ Boss

Do you know what garbage mean?

Exactly,

You
on the 29th June, 2013 at 4:49pm
@ Viktoria

Sorry,

I quit educating ignoramuses long time ago.

Go study.
on the 29th June, 2013 at 4:46pm
@Tommaso i didntt doub Balos tallent. I said i think his skill is wasted with the nazionale style of play. I feel he plays with his back to goal too often rather than receiving the ball infront of hm where he excels so well. Mexico/germany goals for ex. I think if Balo played,spain would have stuck to him like glue & he would done precious little.

@victor whos supposed to score? 1of the many other talented strikers who arnt getting a chance. Im a milanista btw but whats clubs to do with anyting
on the 29th June, 2013 at 3:25pm

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