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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...
Good game, good article.
Just want to add two thoughts:
1. Spain´s usual pressing and possession-based dominance was not possible due to the heat. Possession for Italy had to be `allowed´. Spain won´t be invincible in brazil 2014 (but still have a lot of quality and maybe the best defense).
2. 3-5-2 or 3-4-2-1 might fit better vs. Spain than vs. teams who are used to attack with quick wingers (Germany, Netherlands)? But I definetely liked the stability given by this formation on thursday.
on the 29th June, 2013 at 2:31pm
Tomasso and Viktor, you two must've missed the Italy games vs Japan and Brazil.
The Italian team are told to get the ball to Balotelli, let him take ridiculous shots from 4o yards + and basically carry the attack.
What Prandelli forgot was that Italy have some decent players and can fully function without a player who only plays for himself.

People like you put a guy on top of the world for no reason whatsoever. Sitting on a bench in England doesn't say world-class to me.
on the 29th June, 2013 at 2:28pm
Viktor, i'm a Napoli fan actually.

Balotelli one of the world's greats? Tell me what he's done to earn this tag? The problem for Italy is that they are talking him up as the savior (much like Brazil do with Neymar), that they are forgetting their identity.

Go and watch the previous games when Balotelli played, and tell me I don't know what I'm talking about.
on the 29th June, 2013 at 2:19pm
Tino Baggio, Ita/USA and Maradona. I'm sorry you have no place posting here if you think Italy don't need Balotelli. Balotelli has been phenomenal this tournament and with him in team we would have beaten Spain in my opinion. He has absolutely everything you would want in a centre forward and the potential to be in the best 5 players in world football. To question his inclusion in the Italy team is absolutely ludicrous.
And @boss - its you who is the buffoon my friend.
on the 29th June, 2013 at 1:41pm
@maradonamac

"Italy do better without balotelli" interesting and whose suppose to score then since balotelli score most of Italy's goals among the strikers. Bitterness galore
on the 29th June, 2013 at 1:26pm
@maradonamac

Yea play without one of th beat strikers in the world (balo) and you'll do a lot better. Sad attempt to bring down balo, clearly azzuri do better with him. Smells juve fan from far away. Azzuri needs balo, you know that.
on the 29th June, 2013 at 1:23pm
Pirlo is Pirlo and no one in this world can doubt his talents but the AGE and tiredness is getting on him, DB of Spain said every move of Azzurri starts with Pirlo!! Meaning CP has to do some innovative style of play and not count on Pirlo! The Azzurrini produced several good talented players. Are there any eyes to watch them so a number of them can progress to Senior Squad? How about Serie A, would the clubs appreciate the potential of such young players for Azzurri best interest?
on the 29th June, 2013 at 12:44pm
Well I have been a hard critic on CP and still is, despite giving him & Azzurri the benefit of the doubt in regards to injury crisis which has been a major factor and one to worry for the next WC in which games are going to be played in similar conditions. However, my critic stands on CP because really he is not a pretty game reader, and he seems to be more vulnerable on finding solutions to the defence, his various formation experiments e.g. the game against Brazil Azzurri could of won it.
on the 29th June, 2013 at 12:43pm
I hope CP keeps the formation against Uruguay to see if it really works for the players to gel and against another team not just for Spain.

Forza Azzurri.
on the 29th June, 2013 at 10:05am
Iam not italian iam from Somalia. And iam juve fun since 1997 I always azuri fun but the game Italia and Spain was very very good. Prandale must play 3-5-2 this is juve style
on the 29th June, 2013 at 6:03am
Great lineup 3-5-2-1 vs a skilled slow build-up attacking team like Spain or Brazil.
Look at the result, Spain stalled in mid-field, the flanks were closed. Spain looked confused for long periods giving Italy room to attack. I felt Italy should have won in 90 minutes. Prandelli is a great coach. Now with that said my only negative is the team look more positive without Balotelli. More balanced, but if to choose between Him and Gilardino it's Balo and off to 2014 Brazil.
on the 29th June, 2013 at 5:39am
I agree that excellent were Candreva, De Rossi and Maggio, and Giacharrini played well. My issue with the team is the injuries. You don't see any Spaniards other than Torres as unfit. Injured or cramped during game Chiellini, De Rossi, Marchisio,Pirlo, Gilardino and Barzagli. Giacherrini looked exhausted. Out because of injuries Balo and Abate. The pharoah was injured as well. We need to find out why we can't stop being injured.
on the 29th June, 2013 at 2:13am
Italy did much better because they DIDN'T HAVE Balotelli. They played to their strengths and got the wide lads involved, forcing Spain to think about defending on the flanks and forcing the attacking fullbacks home.
Had Balotelli played, Italy would've played the ball up to him and got absolutely nowhere.

Hopefully Prandelli sees that they are a better team without him.
on the 29th June, 2013 at 1:39am
I put my hands up and say I was wrong. I am soo soo proud of Italy! Forza ITALIAAAAAAAA!!!!!!
on the 29th June, 2013 at 12:44am
I am happy with the way we played, but far far far away from being satisfied with this tournament. Have our standards dropped so far that we are happy with being second or third best in tournaments? What is most concerning to me is with one decent performance some of us easily forget the poor performances leading up to this game.. This tournament also should have served us to test out different formations with 3 at the back but the entire group stage was used to test a 4 man back line.
on the 29th June, 2013 at 12:36am
Dear Mr. DOMINATOR, The cycle time for Spain's DOMINANCE is now in it's twilight stage. This is evident form your fearfully motivated slander of a match that Neutral admirers of world football found beautiful.

The Spanish Armada better enjoy the NOW because their success has NOT been based on players skill, spain has always had brilliant players but were serial chokers as WE ALL KNOW. Their recent success lies in Their smoke and mirror strategy, but they have been FOUND OUT.
on the 29th June, 2013 at 12:17am
Wow, Spain respect Italy so much that they play strip poker the night before the game whilst Italy r training their behinds off, and Italy still get owned lol, embarrassing.

Ill make this controversial point now. Before every penalty shoot out Buffon the buffoon should be replaced. He was rubbish in the shoot out with France, with Spain, with Spain again yesterday. Not impressed with him at all. Butter fingers r creeping in with old age. New keeper needed.

6 penos, no saves, get rid.
on the 29th June, 2013 at 12:15am
PROUD PROUD PROUD! this is what I expect. What a game. Italy basically put the world champions to the brink of colapse. I hope cp will now see he needs to pack the midfield. It's where Italy excel with the ball. I liked this Italian team. Do we need Balotelli? I feel balos talents may be wasted with the azzurri & has been reduced to holding the ball up or higher archy chats with pirlo over who gets to take free kicks. Bring di Natalie santon
Youth fast strikers. Grazie azure I
on the 28th June, 2013 at 10:41pm
@Mustafaaa

Can anyone translate? I didn't get that at all? What are you trying to say? You don't like de sciglio? Why? The guy is pure talent. No question about it.
on the 28th June, 2013 at 10:06pm
ses cant play the lone striker role, ball has to stick and bring players into the game balo is perfect for this role this however isn't the most important position playing 3 at the back all 3 defenders need to be ball playing defenders and the middle CB should have the capability to bring the ball into midfield and start plays this formation allows you to do this anyone who watches juve hears Stuart Robson says it every week that the centre back should be carrying the ball into midfield.
on the 28th June, 2013 at 9:57pm
its hard to say if Italy stopped Spain playing the way they normally do they definitely wasn't the usual Spain high tempo quick passing they looked like the humidity had finally caught up with them.i necessarily agree that Italy should play every game with this formation but you have to play this formation against Spain.the Spanish back four isn't great they just don't get put under pressure enough when they do they are vulnerable because their full backs are always bombing on.
on the 28th June, 2013 at 9:53pm
I've said this all along and we have seen it before, if you neutralize Spain in the midfield, they're done! Azzurri did that brilliantly last night where no other team has thus far. Italy should have been up at least 2-0 at the half. Blown opportunities. Gilardino is useless and time for him to go PERMANENTLY, Marchisio too! Bring back Cassano, Criscito, Insigne, Veratti, etc. and now we're talking!
on the 28th June, 2013 at 9:43pm
I agree with the earlier comments from AL...what's happened to the classic strip of the azure top and white shorts.....I guess the opponents no longer recognise us and therefore no longer fear us!!!LOL!!!!!!!!!Forza Azzurri...and don't forget when you come onto this blog remember how many stars Italy have gained!!!!!
on the 28th June, 2013 at 7:30pm
@ Viktoria

You should've played instead of Gila and Giovinco.

Moreover, you should've taken Prandelli's place. Douche.

How great to see the team without too many stooges. Like Abate and De Sciglio, Osvaldo.
on the 28th June, 2013 at 5:42pm
Fantastic game by all the Azzurri players who did all Azzurri fans proud!

Lots of good comments for the team but none for Maggio who was arguably the best player on the pitch yesterday evening running up and down the right throughout the game and causing havoc on Spains diffence
Overall a very satisfying tournament - once again we have proofed to the world that Italia responds when they need to! Gary Linaker and the rest of the bbc team were completely gutted and frustrated having to watch us!
on the 28th June, 2013 at 5:23pm
DOMINATOR, your belittling this great Spanish side by suggesting they are in Brazil only for sightseeing. They played well below their high standards but that was nothing else but the result of a brilliant Italy that had all the answers and should have won the game on the field.

De Rossi and Candreva were exceptional but I liked Maggio immensely too.
Thanks Azzurri for a great game!
on the 28th June, 2013 at 4:58pm
Confident about Italy for WC14. By the time it comes round Immobile, Gabbiandini, Rossi, Destro or Borini will be on form, we won't be so reliant on Mario up front. Throw in Verratti & Insigne & all we are looking for is a Central Defender and a full back. Hopefully Ogbonna will grow at Juve or the Germans bring Donati and Caldirola on.
Second best team in Europe, yet Serie A fills itself with inferior players. Inter - 5 in U21- what do they do sell them of course! Great work there.
on the 28th June, 2013 at 4:35pm
Italy played well but picked the wrong starting eleven. I know Gila is more of a genuine striker then ses but believe me he would cause a lot more trouble then the slow Gila, and why on earth did cp replace Gila with gio instead of ses.
Ses should be played. Period.
on the 28th June, 2013 at 3:53pm
Some people are never happy. Gila didnt set the match alight you can hardly say it was like Azzurri playing with 10men. I stated I would not have took him but as a like for like player he was the best option in the squad to replace Balo. All other options were more support strikers and though due to tiredness he did not get the support Gio looked lost up front in ET. Great Performance by The Azzurri and give CP credit he is building a good side here and with a couple of U21in future is bright
on the 28th June, 2013 at 3:51pm
It was a performance that gives us hope and shows that Italy are and always will be a footballing GIANT!One note of caution, our substitutions did not give us the extra gear required compared to the Spanish changes which simply highlights a weak bench. Hopefully some of the boys from the U21's will change this. Please explain Aquilani & Montolivo to me. I just don't get it. Giovinco No10..are we sure? Gilardino...just as well that i'm runnung out of characters!Dominator, you are a muppet!
on the 28th June, 2013 at 3:22pm

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