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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...
The attack position is a liability. Giovinco is not going to be the player we hoped for. I think a veteran such as Totti should be taken (if he's fit) and Insigne or even Cassano. I know Totti is old but a veteran on the team would not be bad and he's better than what we've got on the bench.
on the 28th June, 2013 at 2:22pm
The support from the Brazilians last night was fantastic! I cannot recall Italy ever having that kind of backing away from home. I don't have a problem with the lone forward, provided that they are not left in isolation. Our midfielders did a fine job with their forward runs. I hope that we can unearth another midfield enforcer. We are arguably more dependent on De Rossi than Pirlo. Aside from Marrone, do any of you know of any defensive midfield prospects that are coming through?
on the 28th June, 2013 at 1:46pm
I am so tired of this, what is so precious about getting eliminated to Spain for the 3rd time???!!?? It's so wonderful that we're turning into their Germany. YAAAYYYY!! Whatever happened to our standards & expectations. Terrible.
on the 28th June, 2013 at 1:45pm
It's so obvious "DOMINATOR" knows absolutely nothing about football. Spain wants to win everything to show their dominance. That game was both teams at their best! It was a beautiful game and both teams deserved to win! I honestly believe Italy deserved that game a little more and the lack of a quality striker hurt them. Proud of the football that was played by both teams!
on the 28th June, 2013 at 1:31pm
don't know which match 'dominator' was watching?! nor do i know who his bias/allegiance is towards either?! ...but the azzurri had a very good match. which shows, and i have discussed it many times on footballitalia blogs, about how good the 3-5-2 is with a de rossi as a play making center back. maggio bombing up and down the flank. candreva playing well too. try the same thing now with balotelli and ses up front with some of the u21 players mixed in. heroic effect ragazzi!
on the 28th June, 2013 at 1:29pm
....Also, a side note....whatever happened to Italy's white shorts? Fashion police, please bring back the classic Azzurri top and white shorts for next year.
on the 28th June, 2013 at 1:21pm
Lessons learned from this game are evident; Italy MUST adopt this formation of 3-5-2. Prandelli MUST drop Aquilani and Gilardino. The rest were excellent. Candreva for me was Italy's man of the match, an excellent display.
Also, De Rossi should seriously consider a permanent role in the back three for the Azzurri, because with Montilivio in middle now, he is not needed there as much.
It's a shame, because with Balotelli, Spain would have got beat last night with ease.
Overall, Italy shone.
on the 28th June, 2013 at 1:10pm
Well, well, well. And there I was thinking it would be a boring summer with no World Cup/Euros to satisfy my craving for the beautiful game. But what a wonderful summer it has been with the under-21s doing us proud and now, the full national side, confirming our seat at football’s top table alongside Brazil, Spain and Germany. Prandelli is a great manager – I had my doubts at first – but he has completely converted me. He can orchestrate attacking, free-flowing football as well as a formidable defensive rear guard. Okay, we haven’t actually won anything but at least we’ve had something to savour. It’s been great to watch the games and we can now look forward to next year’s world cup with renewed optimism. We will go far and Lady Luck – who has deserted us this tournament – will be with us once again. To coin a cliché, I don’t think too many sides will want to face the Azzurri. Forza i giocatori! Forza Prandelli! Forza Italia!
on the 28th June, 2013 at 1:07pm
Best performance any team has ever put in against that Spanish team. Italy should have had a 2 or 3 goal lead at half time. People say Spain were poor, but they were outplayed and out-thought until Italy got tired. Italy imposed their game plan and did not allow Spain to impose theirs. I have seen Spain play worse and still win easy against decent sides. Well done Italy, they have been improving consistently since 2010. Unlucky last night, but they will be a major force at the next world cup.
on the 28th June, 2013 at 12:59pm
Interesting lessons learnt from this tournament. The 4-3-1-2 and 4-3-3 can be demoted to plan C&D now. The way forward for is the 4-2-3-1 or 3-4-1-2 dependent on who we play, our versatility has increased. Giak and Candreva have earned their stripes, Aquilani should never be considered again. Prandelli needs another goal scorer as reserve to Balotelli - Gilardino who was brilliant at bringing others into play sadly lacked a threat in front of goal - Di Natale/Pazzini/Osvaldo should be considered
on the 28th June, 2013 at 12:57pm
hello
fantastic azzuri against espana
but mr. prndelli how on earth can u ever think gilardinho fits in the azzuri squad....he was the sad part of the squad and i would say itally dominated spain with 10 men....gilardinho was a liability...just walking in the park....any u-21 intwernational,like even borini,would have fit in the squad....i must suggest italy shudd show extra care with fiorentina foward rossi now.....italy had no fowARD TO MATCH UP WITH BALOTELLI.
the defenders like pique and ra
on the 28th June, 2013 at 12:21pm
blog guest, that was italy at their very best. That was spain at their average/low ability. Trouble is with you people is that you think surviving a thrashing by the best team in the world is something to be proud of. Italy beat spain in a firnedly before the euros. Spain were not cometitive in those games as they do not need to be. When spain want to play, they will thrash italy again 4-0. But they just teased italy. Italy should not go home happy, when you win then u can b happy.
on the 28th June, 2013 at 12:09pm
Prandelli must forget about the 4-3-1-2 and the Christmas Tree formation. The three-man defence is the way to go for the Azzurri. At least the players were in their natural positions and could position themselves properly. The Juve defenders and Maggio benefited more than anyone else.

If Insigne becomes an Azzurri regular, the 3-4-2-1 would probably suit him more. I can't see him playing regularly as a support striker in a 3-5-2.
on the 28th June, 2013 at 12:04pm
That was more like it! I was very proud of the team. With better finishing we could have won, & done so convincingly. De Rossi was exceptional, in both his roles & Candreva continued the excellent progress that he has made this season. His pace gives the team another dimension. I'd like to see Prandelli retaining this system & switching Balotelli & Rossi for Gilardino & Marchisio. In the final game I'd like to see SES, Marchetti, & Astori get a run out.
on the 28th June, 2013 at 11:39am
We were unlucky last night, only if Gilardino beaten the off side trap. I was hoping SES to replace him instead of Giovinco. I hope CP sticks with 3421 but i'm not of a fan of a lone striker, maybe 352 to start then 3421 to finish the game off. I've got high hope for the world cup with likes Insigne, Gab and Vet coming in
on the 28th June, 2013 at 11:21am
I was so pleased with the performance it has given me hope for next years real deal

Why has it taken so long for CP to realise that we must play 3-5-2 or 3-4-2-1?
on the 28th June, 2013 at 11:05am
Nevertheless it shows how incompetent Prandelli is. With a 3-man backline, Azzuri looked solid in defence and gave Spain a real scare in a very, very long time. I hope he does not revert back to his favourite 4-man treq 4-3-1-2 formation in WC qualifiers. Conte was a 4-2-4 coach but when he tooked over the reign of Juve he changed to 4-3-3/3-5-2 to bring the best out of his players.

Out: Gilardino, Montolivo(Prandelli's foster son), Giovinco, Aquilani.
Stand-out players: Giach, Candreva
on the 28th June, 2013 at 10:49am
One of the most sensible and balanced blogs ever written on this site.It is the first time I have ever been satisfied following a defeat. The performance was excellent I have been screaming at CP on the television to employ the 3-5-2 throughout this tournament.My only issue is up front if MB had played I really feel that we would have won,is our next best striker really AG,the bench appeared light on strikers,what about Matri,Quag amongst others,we need a back up as at the moment this is missing
on the 28th June, 2013 at 10:30am
Im so proud of Italy what a performance if balotelli was playing we would have one bring on the the world cupnowwe will be ready forza Italia
on the 28th June, 2013 at 10:29am
And Balo had a solid tournament before getting injured. This has been a very useful tournament. It has to be difficult to Prandelli to move back to a back four now but ultimately I have faith in him. He has produced great football with what is in reality quite a poor team and he has achieved things. Finals and semi-finals and in 4 games against Spain he has only lost one in ordinary time. And he has beaten Germany. I hope the country can stop criticising him and get behind Italy next year.
on the 28th June, 2013 at 10:14am
Perhaps he should have taken Di Natale? Hopefully if we add some U21s such as Verratti, Insigne and possibiy Borini and Florenzi we can replace some of the questionable players like Aquilani and Gilardino. And Rossi still to return. It's a shame SES did not get a chance but perhaps this could be a stroke of genius. Let him get to know the squad but also rest physically and mentally. Maybe he'll be back on form next season (not that in my view he dropped off). And
on the 28th June, 2013 at 10:12am
De Rossi was awesome. So complete as a player. Yes he has a lack of pace but is good in the air, very competitive and most of all he is tecnically gifted and can play. Candreva also impressed me. And showed how average Alba is defensively - he relies totally on his blistering pace!!

Encouraging performance
on the 28th June, 2013 at 10:09am
What a performance. And could those criticising Prandelli please hold their hands up. He did move to 3-6-1 though and Italy seemed far more comfortable both in defence and attack. De Rossi is perfect in the sweeper position but the only problem is what happens if he isn't fit? There is no other player who can play in that role. Ogbonna? Pirlo?? De Rossi is pretty unique. For all the criticism of Gila there were in fact limited options. Osvaldo is a liability. Destro has not had a good season.
on the 28th June, 2013 at 10:08am
Lots of criticism of Prandelli on these pages and one bizarre comment of hoping Italy don't get to the world cup. Prandelli is the answer and has moved Italy forward into the new era of football. Long may he continue.
on the 28th June, 2013 at 10:01am
Good performance vindicating mos people on here's decision to play 3 at the back nut also shows that some managers like DB are lucky with the quality of players at their disposal and little to do with tactical nous. If I would fault CP it will be for his unnecessary subs especially at 1/2 time. He did that with Cassano in the final of Euros and also last night.If Barzagli was not injured it was an odd decision tho not as odd as taking off Torres n bringing on Martinez with Villa on the bench.
on the 28th June, 2013 at 9:54am

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