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Wednesday October 16 2013
A seed of doubt…

Italy’s final World Cup qualifier ended in a 2-2 draw against Armenia, costing the Azzurri a top seeding at the World Cup. Luca Cetta assesses the best and the worst from the Naples contest.

Another Italy game, another draw and another comeback required. Anybody would be forgiven for thinking the visit to Naples was the latest episode of the Mario Balotelli Show given the coverage he received leading up to the contest. From camera crews to the Camorra and tweets along the way, Balo was again the centre of attention. Amid it all was the World Cup qualifier with Armenia.

Not that the Azzurri seemed to get the memo early. Cesare Prandelli called the opening 20 minutes embarrassing. Yura Movsisyan pounced on a sixth minute error from Alberto Aquilani to open the scoring. An already shaky makeshift defence took little time to crack. The boys in blue couldn’t string three passes together.

In typical Italian fashion having already sealed qualification meant taking the foot off the pedal, but there was still something to play for. Aside from protecting an unbeaten run in World Cup and European Championships qualifying stretching back to September 2006, there was the small matter of World Cup seedings.

A win either against Denmark or Armenia would seal a top eight seeding and less potential for a Group of Death scenario. However, in two matches the Catenaccio gods would have been appalled with, Italy conceded four avoidable goals.

At the Stadio San Paolo, Aquilani’s mistake was compounded by Federico Marchetti in the second half. He fumbled the ball behind for a corner, then, echoing Walter Zenga at the same end 23 years earlier, came for a cross but was not close. Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s header struck the underside of the bar and crossed the line. Italy left their fate in other hands. Switzerland’s win aided their top eight push. Colombia and Uruguay’s final qualifiers would decide the rankings.

If the performance was disjointed, a look at the starting XI reveals why. It was a side filled with reserves. Prandelli was not too worried about the seeding situation, rather he concentrated on giving these players one last test in a competitive environment pre-Brazil. A number of regulars were absent, while the match showed the defensive stocks are low on depth. Nonetheless, the tactician was pleased with the spirit shown in erasing two deficits.

The match also glimpsed Italy’s future. Two wingers continued to stake their claim for a plane ticket across the Atlantic with fine performances. Lorenzo Insigne sparkled on home soil. After Fabio Cannavaro, Ciro Ferrara and Antonio Juliano, he was the fourth Neapolitan to represent his country at the fabled venue and if not for the post, would have been the first to score. Alessandro Florenzi netted a first Azzurri goal from Insigne’s cross and is really taking to his new position wide on the right, giving Prandelli another option.

Balotelli put aside the controversy and his weekend illness to make a substitute appearance. He rescued Italy with the second goal, hooking Andrea Pirlo’s pass into the far corner. Super Mario was in one of those moods and very nearly won it late on. Then there’s Giuseppe Rossi, who began the latest chapter to his Azzurri adventure following a two year absence. Rossi’s last game was on 7 October 2011, in Serbia. “It was a huge emotion to wear the Nazionale jersey again, be on the field with the lads and moving the ball around,” he said.

These players are the future, but the future is now, on the road to Brazil. The quartet will surely – barring injury – be heading to Brazil. Prandelli has already conceded he couldn’t conceive of a World Cup squad lacking Balotelli.

So what to take from the match? For long stretches it looked the classic nothing-on-the-line Italy match. The Azzurri lacked urgency and fluency. Yes, they twice responded to falling behind, but with the added carrot of top seeding up for grabs they failed to achieve their goal. Colombia and Uruguay’s wins ensure it’s the first time since 1978 that Italy are not top seeds. On the flipside, players such as Insigne and Florenzi highlighted what there is to look forward to in the upcoming months.

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Have your say...
@dario


Lol such as??

I'm wth you on he marketing aspect. But c'mon, you honestly don't consider him as a great striker when it matters
on the 18th October, 2013 at 11:18pm
Dan, Roncaglia started very well at fiorentina and yes he has been out of the team a bit but I still rate him. He is a far better option than De Silvestri, Ranocchia and Astori. I hope he gets the chance under Prandelli. He cant be any worse than the donkeys Cesare continues to call.
on the 18th October, 2013 at 2:35pm
@viktor, I probably am but at least I know we would get 20-30 minutes work out of him. He is lazy & fades out of games too much for both club and country. Italy needs a prolific scorer (20+ a season) not just someone who takes penalties. All he does is moan at referees & gets his name in the papers for the wrong things. He is a marketing genius & media goldmine and that's why he gets picked. Is he ever in the news for his football? There are far better Italian strikers in Italy!
on the 18th October, 2013 at 12:25pm
Sam, can you tell me why you rate Roncaglia so highly? What are his best attributes? I recall him starting well last season & scoring a fine goal, but since then he has been in & out of the team. Rodriguez has been the best Viola stopper IMO.
on the 17th October, 2013 at 7:04pm
Ara, you're right, Armenia are a good team, & have a very potent attack. Their future does look positive. Timo, fair points, but we were extremely lucky in many of our qualifiers. On another day, we could easily have lost away to Denmark. Czech, Bulgaria, & Armenia. It was individual brilliance from the likes of Buffon that secured us the results in those games: not Prandelli's tactical skills. As I said, I like him, for his attacking approach, but I am a little concerned with some of decisions.
on the 17th October, 2013 at 6:49pm
@Dario

"at best have balotelli on the bench"

You do realize you're probably the only one in the world who thinks that way?

Even sadly as a liability, he still offers something like no other Italian striker offers at the moment.

So even if zaza got talented. Picking him instead of Balo is absurd. I'm sure you realize that?
on the 17th October, 2013 at 5:16pm
Leave the Aquilani, take the Insigne.
on the 17th October, 2013 at 12:14pm
Onofrio your squad selection and thoughts in general are spot on. I couldnt agree more with what you are saying. Perhaps Cesare is right the tougher the group stage the better we will do in the tournament. I just worry Cesare will pick the wrong players. Can any tell me a better defender than Roncaglia in serie A baring Chiellini and maybe Barzagli on a good day?
on the 17th October, 2013 at 11:55am
As always people are getting heated up over nothing, we're Italy, this is how we do things, everyone's a pessimist and thinks they're a better CT than whoevers in charge but we always take our foot off the gas and relax. We could be pretty and pundit pleasing like Brazil or Spain but we part of the unholy triad alongside Argentina and Germany who are genuine World Cup teams. Also seedlings will never take away the fact we are the most successful European World Cup team. Fact.
on the 17th October, 2013 at 10:07am
Dario I'm with you on Cigarini I watch him every time he plays and he very RARELY puts in a poor performance,he currently has more assist(4) than any other central midfielder in Serie A and is in the top 5 in all of europe. Lets not forget he don't have the strikers or the team like these other players do either. Over the last 2 years ONLY Pirlo has a better LB,SB passing percentage than him,right behind him too Pirlo 87.3 and Ciga 81.5 and he's very smart on the field. Ridiculous to snubb him.
on the 17th October, 2013 at 12:09am
It's a simple evaluation to help the problem which is why I can't understand why Prandelli hasn't figured it out by now. First play in a formation best suitable for our defense being we don't have the back line like in the past, second get are midfield to dictate the possession an pace of the game with lots of passing, that would also help the back line and open space up for the attackers. Last find the right striking tandems, and another striker. Balo, Insigne, and Rossi are our best tandem.
on the 16th October, 2013 at 11:31pm
@mm i totally agree. Balo can play but fades to often in and out of the game. He is not a team player and when things dont go well for him he gets moody and booked or sent off. He is a liability. At best I would have him on the bench as a sub. Italy has some other good young strikers who score goals from open play (Sau, Zaza etc) and not just penalties. Verratti umm how about Cigarini who is also a good player.
Marchetti no way. Cant handle it. How about Perrin?
on the 16th October, 2013 at 10:53pm
Also not to forget, That Marchetti is one of the WORST goalkeepers of all time, he has the potential to be an excellent keeper, but is pretty bad, always seems like he is not interested.
on the 16th October, 2013 at 10:53pm
That was basically an Italy reserves team out there agaist a senior Armenia team, all bar a couple. Qualified with 2 games remaining, coming back twice in the last 2 games, The one V Denmark, we rested on our laurels aftr we took a 1 -0 lead and it nearly cost us. Armenia, even with our reserves team should of put them away, silly defensive error by Aquilani to conede the first goal, the defence needs a bit of jig, not to much a little polish and they'll be ok.
on the 16th October, 2013 at 10:51pm
@viktor
Balo had a great 20mins last nite. But to base our whole team around him is ludicrous. There are strikers in italy but prandelli sticks with gila and osvaldo who at best are a load of BS! I listened to prandelli interview saying we must be around balo more through a difficult time- how much wrapping up of this guy do we need to do?? Hes a constant drama and its risky to base everything around a player that loses his temper so easily. Hes a player treat him like 1
on the 16th October, 2013 at 10:11pm
Insigne needs to be given plenty of time on the field for Napoli this season. He looks like a star in the making. BTW I think Italy were second seeds in 1998 as well, but I might be wrong.
on the 16th October, 2013 at 7:59pm
@tonyit

Dude, montilivo was one of the better players against Armenia. Did you watch the right game? I see your point in aquillani but monti is key.
on the 16th October, 2013 at 7:07pm
Aquilani please retire from international football you are rubbish!!!!!! You(we)were lucky with deflected goal on Friday, got you a starting place, misplaced passes, no vision, no heart. Same goes for Monty !

CP you have some real problems in this squad, bring in cassano at least. Insigne, florenzi absolute stars.

Forza Azzurri
on the 16th October, 2013 at 6:02pm
The squad and players that should be considered for Brazil with the forthcoming friendlies in mind,should look like this, using the 4-2-3-1 and 3-4-1-2 formations which we had success with at the Confederations Cup.

Buffon, Sirigu, Marchetti/Bardi

Maggio, Abate, Barzagli, Chiellini, Roncaglia/Bonucci, Balzaretti, De Sciglio

Candreva, Giacherini, De Rossi, Pirlo, Verratti, Marchisio/Thiago Motta, Florenzi, Montolivo

Rossi, Insigne, Balotelli, Osvaldo, Di Natale/Totti/Cassano/Quagliarella
on the 16th October, 2013 at 5:46pm
@mm

Not sure if you watched the same game. When Balo got on, everything happened.

Him and insigne played very well together. You should be happy about having Balo, without him there wouldn't be much of a striker in Italy at the moment. Creative forwards and midfielders, yes. However, strikers like balo? None.
on the 16th October, 2013 at 5:38pm
Italy didn't play great at all, and they could well pay a hefty price for failing to be in the top seeds. I don't agree with the comments calling Prandelli useless, this Italy team simply doesn't have the quality defenders it once had, and so will inevitably concede goals. What it does have is some pace (for once), a technically gifted midfield and some very interesting young attacking talent. Prandelli is simply using what he has, at least we're not as boring to watch as before
on the 16th October, 2013 at 5:34pm
No point creating a team coz prandelli will play same 11 from start to finish we already know the game plan.. pass to balo and let him do what he likes! This team is a joke. Balo is a striker he scored a great goal last nite but then he wonders off to midfield and all sorts. When balo is on we lack invention as all we do is let him do what he wants but as a lone strker thats pointless! When he isnt playing we play ok but osvaldo gila and the other clowns he picks could score in a brothel.
on the 16th October, 2013 at 4:35pm
Prandelli has to go. The group was hardly the most difficult to get out of. Based on every performance in the group stage any big nation with smash us. Brazil did in the summer and based on prandellis poor team selections and formations hes indecisive and lacks the presence to deal with italy. Bored of this lottery of formations hes got no idea what hes doing. Defence is horrendous under prandelli we have conceded more goals that in 10years before. We are in a mess wake up ppl
on the 16th October, 2013 at 4:27pm
There was a lot to play for, top seeding, which could mean the difference between a very tough group and a tough one. In wasting the final two games (what did Prandelli learn, that Aquilani's name should be struck from his roster, and Ranocchia????). They should have solidified their team by winning and ensuring top seed, not 'experimented'.
on the 16th October, 2013 at 3:29pm
My squad for the finals as everybody else is doing one is
Buffon, sirigu, marchetti, abate, maggio, de sciglio, criscitio,
Chiellini, bonucci, barzagli, Ogbonna, Pirlo, de Rossi, verratti, Florenzi, montolivio, marchisio,candreva, insigne, balotelli, Rossi, SES, Cassano/ giovinco.

Osvaldo is pants gila is past it.
Totti too old di natale too old.
Reserve:
Quagilarella
Cannavaro
Antonelli
Bardi
Aquilani ( at a push)
Balzaretti
Giaccherini
on the 16th October, 2013 at 3:02pm
@mark miccoli has played for Italy only on a few occasions he did score from a corner once against Portugal memory serves me right! Problem is he couldn't get in a team which contained inzaghi, del piero, cassano. He wouldn't be out of place in this current Italy side due to the lack of talent we currently have up front.My hope is this Italy team try and get to the semi finals at least but can see it being another japan and korea sadly. Either way lets get behind the lads come June 12th!!
on the 16th October, 2013 at 2:45pm
Armenia is a strong team??? What a joke!!! Italy should put this game to bed in a first half,but Prandelli was experimenting like he didn't have enough already.
Italy is like Juventus always creating problems by themselves...
on the 16th October, 2013 at 2:41pm
Same old same old.. Italy play poorly in a meaningless game as they've always done and always will and the media starts. I'm pretty sure the past couple of tournaments they played poorly in friendlies leading up to them and finished second at the Euros and if not for some unlucky bounces would've beat Spain this past June. True Azzurri fans understand how this team works. Not saying I like that they play that way but unfortunately they do!
on the 16th October, 2013 at 2:05pm
Why nothing good about Armenian national team? This team won at least once all the teams in the group and only Italy got 4 points from the matches with Armenia none else. Armenia won Denmark 4:0, Czech team 2:1 and Bulgaria 2:1. Why none of you want to realize that yesterday Italy played with a strong team who can use it's chances better than your team. Look the statistics of the match.
on the 16th October, 2013 at 1:51pm
All that can be said is that Italy has always played badly in friendlys and non competitive games and thus nothing can be interpreted from this performance. They lost a bunch of friendlys before the EURO and then went to the final.
on the 16th October, 2013 at 1:27pm

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