So, the inevitable happened. The only thing slightly unexpected was that it happened earlier than predicted. Not even the most die-hard Azzurri fan gave the team of 2010 any hope of progressing beyond the last eight stages. But even the most pessimistic wouldn’t have predicted the tame first round exit, after finishing last in, arguably, the easiest groups of all.
Magnitude of the humiliation..
- Italy finished dead last in a group consisting of Slovakia, New Zealand and Paraguay. Of which one team (New Zealand) doesn’t even have enough professional footballers to make a 23 member squad.
- Of the 69 players in the three other teams in this group, only Skrtel and Hamsik would have a chance of getting into the Azzurri squad, such is the talent gap.
- This is the first time since 1974, Italy failed to clear the first round hurdle. And THE FIRST TIME EVER in the history of their World Cup performances, they finished DEAD LAST in group stages.
- Any neutral observer of the game would have expected Team Italia to sleepwalk to top of the heap. In almost four hours of play, the team scored just thrice – two of which are largely unconvincing – one from a goalkeeper rebound and the second from a very debatable penalty.
How it was in 2006..
Before 2006, Lippi was a divisive figure in Italy – despised by Inter and Fiorentina fans while loved by Juventus followers. He took over the La Nazionale after the 2004 Euro fiasco. Against the worst kind of adversity, he performed what can only be termed as a miracle. With many clubs, including some big names, like Juventus, facing an uncertain future, he turned the talented group into World Cup winners. Even those who previously hated him had developed a grudging respect for the man by this time.
Lippi decided to take time off and his successor Roberto Donadoni had an ageing yet talented squad at his disposal. Faced with the challenge of blending in talented youngsters, Donadoni failed miserably and Italy went out of Euro 2008 in last eight, humiliated by Netherlands in group stage.
Not all comebacks are successful..
Lippi took over for his second innings with La Nazionale, promising to do his best. His second stint began with a disastrous 2-2 draw against the mighty Austria. In two years, since the Euro 2008 debacle, he steadfastly refused to shed his faith in the same group of players who had won him the last World Cup. The result – the same group of aging and inconsistent performers were persisted with at the cost of long term continuity. Even a layman could have observed that many of the 2006 stars were way off the hill physically and were not even consistently performing at the club level.
Early warnings ignored..
The 2009 Confederations Cup proved to be a good testing ground to see where the players stood. Not only were the Azzurris humiliated by a strong Brazilian team, they were outplayed and outclassed by a physically superior Egyptian side. The physical frailties of the squad was brutally exposed by other teams. By then it was apparent that the squad lacked freshness and age was showing up for many players. Lippi had a year to set things right, which he nonchalantly ignored.
Arrogance at the cost of ‘The Azzuri’..
The biggest problem Lippi had – apart from his steadfast refusal to learn from the past mistakes – was that he brought in personal agendas much to the detriment of the Azzurri. Antonio Cassano was by miles the standout Italian performer in the last two years. However, due to some mysterious reasons he was never given a chance by Lippi. In fact, the most shameful of all his actions was his treatment of Fabrizio Miccoli. The pint-sized support striker was undoubtedly the best Italian performer in his position in Serie-A. In the past, Miccoli had the temerity to annoy Lippi’s friend Luciano Moggi. This meant that as long as Lippi was the boss, Miccoli would never make it into the national squad. He could have easily made a big difference to Azzurri’s 2010 campaign.
Muddled team selections and formations..
Continuing his policy of selecting over-the-hill players, Lippi filled up the squad with seven Juventus players who had the worst season in over a generation. The likes of Cannavaro, Camonaresi, Iaquinta were all either injured or hopelessly out of shape. Add to this list the likes of Gattuso and Zambrotta, who last played a good game well over a year ago. The core of the team was decayed and would have been exposed by any good side. Now in the main tournament itself, Lippi used multiple formations, causing the likes of Marchiso and Pepe to come out and question his tactics. From the straight 4-4-2 against Paraguay to a modified 4-3-1-2 to a 4-3-3 – all possible formations were deployed without any continuity. The result? The attack was incoherent and couldn’t put up anything decent for almost four hours. Only the introduction of Quagliarella and Pirlo brought some semblance of sanity into the attack. The question remains unanswered – why were Quagliarella and Pazzini kept on the bench, when the likes of Iaquinta and Gilardino were clearly struggling?
The legacy of Lippi’s disastrous tenure..
Today’s Italian team has a bunch of players, who are ‘past it’ and need to be escorted to the exit door, and another bunch of talented, but completely inexperienced youngsters – the need of the hour is a man of wisdom, who has the vision to find out the optimal blend of experience and youth in the Azzurri squad.
FIGC has announced Cesare Prandelli as Lippi‘s successor. His success in nurturing youth in Fiorentina would very much be needed by Azzurri at this hour of crisis. Thankfully the draw for Euro 2012 Qualifying has been kind to Italy, so Prandelli‘s kids can afford to make a few mistakes along the way and learn.
The following might possibly be the Azzurri squad for the Euro 2012 Qualifying, since Prandelli loves the 4-2-3-1 formation.
Santon – Bonucci – Chellini – Criscito
De Rossi – Montolivo
Maggio — Cassano — Balotelli
Santacroce— Gamberini/Santacroce- Ranochchia – Marco Motta
Marchionni — Fabrizio Miccoli / Guiseppe Rossi — Seba Giovinco
It is obvious that apart from Buffon, not even a single player from the existing starting XI is good enough for the Euro 2012 campaign. Although enormous amount of talent is available at the disposal of Prandelli, the bigger question is will he be able to blend the right mix of experience with this talented young bunch? Only time will reveal the answer.