And one more time, ahead of a major international tournament, things have gotten dodgy in Italy. Another match fixing scandal has been unearthed and more than a dozen suspects have been taken into investigation with a few of them having been arrested too. A betting racket operating globally is believed to have influenced the results of a number of games in the lesser divisions during the previous season.

Three of the most prominent names at this stage are of Juventusai??i?? title winning coach Antonio Conte, Lazio skipper Stefano Mauri and the ex-Genoa winger Domenico Criscito. The unfortunate developments have most certainly had an impact on the preparations of the national team as the police reportedly invaded the training area in order to take Criscito for questioning and search for his locker. As the first consequence of the allegations, Criscito was dropped from the probable list of players travelling to Poland. Adding to the trouble, the first of Italyai??i??s two last international friendly games against Luxemburg had to be cancelled after the earthquake that was experienced in Modena on the scheduled date.

Historically, Italy have done well in tournaments immediately after the scandals of these proportions that are capable of unsettling the harmony in a squad. The scandals have always acted as a rather counter-effective force that propelled the team to bring out their best. On two different instances in 1982 and 2006, Italy happened to conquer the World Cup titles despite the discouraging controversies having taken place back home. However, it is safe to say the current crop of players is pretty inferior in comparison to those teams of past.

Amidst all sorts of turbulence, Cesare Prandelli has finally announced his 23-man squad and the primitive assessment of the list does not throw any real surprises as all the selections make good sense for their respective playing positions. Unlike his predecessor Marcelo Lippi, Prandelli has not let his personal prejudice come in the way of his selection criteria and the procedure has been entirely meritorious. Players who have consistently delivered during the last season or two for their clubs have earned their due irrespective of the traditional repute of the club they play for. That the 32-man list contained two names from Serie B and that one of them has made it to the final squad speaks volumes for Prandelliai??i??s insistence on merit.

Squad Check

Goalkeepers:

  • Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus) [C]
  • Morgan De Sanctis (Napoli)
  • Salvatore Sirigu (Paris Saint-Germain)

Italy appear adequately strong in this department particularly after the season Buffon has had with Juventus. Italyai??i??s number one has once again reclaimed himself and is expected to be on top of his game. Agile movement, quick reflexes and intelligent ball distribution have always been Buffonai??i??s strength and not for nothing he is considered the best in the world even today by many. It was his absence for the major part of the group games during the World Cup 2010 in South Africa that played a huge role in Italyai??i??s untimely exit. Buffon is immensely experienced at organising the defence and the fact Italy defence will majorly be made up of Juventus players will only add to his comfort.

Euro 2012: Italy's Buffon

Will He Be The Difference?

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Salvatore Sirigu becomes only second goalkeeper to represent Italy in a major international tournament despite plying his trade in a league outside Italy. The first one to do so was Morgan De Sanctis who earned a call during the previous Euros while playing for Sevilla. Di Sanctis who now plays for Napoli incidentally happens to be on the squad list this time too. Both the custodians have fared decently for PSG and Napoli respectively and though the fans would wish there does not arise a situation where Prandelli needs to resort to either of them, Italy are assured of quality backup.

Defence:

  • Ignazio Abate (Milan)
  • Christian Maggio (Napoli)
  • Andrea Barzagli (Juventus)
  • Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus)
  • Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus)
  • Angelo Ogbonna (Torino)
  • Federico Balzaretti (Palermo)

Solid defence has always been the key to Italian success and the story is no different this time around too. The defence during South Africa looked shakier than ever but the things have considerably improved in the past two years and the selected individuals are deemed of the required quality to negate even the strongest of attacking threats that the likes of Spain, Netherlands and Germany possess in their armoury.

Of the selected names, Chiellini and Barzagli pretty naturally select themselves. Though the Juventus duo have not enjoyed as much playing time in the centre together as theyai??i??d have preferred to since Chiellini was often forced to play out of position, they still make for a pretty stable central defensive partnership. Chiellini is considered to be one of the best defenders in the world and is at a physical advantage against most of the strikers in Europe. His height is a great asset to the team while defending set pieces. Barzagli, on the other hand, is expected to play at the deepest point in defence and he may have to stretch himself out wide if Prandelli expects his full backs to advance.

Christian Maggio and Ignazio Abate will battle it out for the right-back slot, albeit the former should be the first choice. After Criscito being dropped from the squad, Balzarettiai??i??s place on the left is more than certain. A lot depends on what system Prandelli opts for during the group games. Given his tactics during the qualifiers and friendlies, one may want to bet on him sticking with the four man defence. In any case, the manager must ensure the defence does not lose its shape while dealing with the counter attacking threat.

Bonucci and Ogbonna are unlikely to start, unless there are any last minute fitness concerns to any of the defenders.

Midfield:

  • Daniele De Rossi (Roma)
  • Andrea Pirlo (Juventus)
  • Claudio Marchisio (Juventus)
  • Antonio Nocerino (Milan)
  • Riccadro Montolivo (Milan)
  • Emanuele Giaccherini (Juventus)
  • Alessandro Diamanti (Bologna)
  • Thiago Motta (Paris Saint-Germain)

Pirlo has just had a remarkable season with the recently crowned champions Juventus and is reminiscent of his own self during the 2006 World Cup. It is needless to say Italyai??i??s fortunes are carried on Pirloai??i??s shoulders. Like he has been doing with Juventus for the last entire season, he will pull the strings for Italy. Playing at the deepest point, Pirlo will not only distribute the ball but will also be needed further up to link up with the advancing full backs and wide forwards or trequartista depending on the formation Prandelli chooses for the particular game.

Euro 2012 - Italy's Pirlo

All The Expectations Lie On His Shoulders

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Daniele De Rossi is a natural choice to provide Pirlo with the defensive cover. The Roma hitman is one of the better midfielders in the world and now is his time to rise on the right moment. This could be his career defining tournament and provided he lives to his billing, he can prove to be a very vital cog in the wheel for Italy. Should Italy start with a three pronged midfield, the third spot is between Marchisio, Montolivo and Nocerino for the taking. On the current form, Marchisio takes the cake but Prandelli may want to exploit Nocerinoai??i??s goal scoring abilities too.

Thiago Motta is another player in form and could also be started in the centre alongside Pirlo in a more traditional four man midfield. The ex-Inter man is also pretty strong defensively but that will push De Rossi further on right ai??i?? a position he may not exactly relish playing at. Italy do not have a natural trequartista in their ranks but if Prandelli is keen on a linking point between midfield and attack, Diamanti can be an option worth exercising, though only for patches in a game. Juventus winger Giaccherini is likely to warm the bench unless Prandelli considers adding some serious width on the left ai??i?? even in that case how effective could he prove to be remains a question unanswered as his is the only selection in this squad that leaves room for criticism.

Attack:

  • Antonio Cassano (Milan)
  • Sebastian Giovinco (Parma)
  • Mario Balotelli (Manchester City)
  • Antonio Di Natale (Udinese)
  • Fabio Borini (Roma)

The absence of a natural striker will haunt Italy and the signs have already been seen in the recent losses against the likes of Uruguay and USA, wherein Italy failed to score despite creating a decent number of opportunities. Antonio Cassano is the most priced weapon at Prandelliai??i??s disposal at the moment. The Milan forward has undergone a lot in the past one year and there is no better time to play to his potential than now. Cassanoai??i??s vision in the final third is immaculate and should that successfully couple with the finishing touch of Di Natale, Italy may see the draught of goals finally vanish.

Mario Balotelli will remain the trump card although it is not clear whether Prandelli will start with him straightaway given his temperamental troubles. The manager must ensure he utilizes Di Nataleai??i??s sensational conversion abilities to the fullest. Italy lack a genuine finisher and the Udinese skipper who is most certainly playing for one last time in national colours may find the required motivation to deliver on the big stage. Borini and Giovinco are young, raw and immensely talented. They may have a potential impact on the course of the game and should be effectively injected in the setup at key points in a game where they silently change the attacking shape for Italy. Giovinco in particular is extremely fast running down the left flank.

Euro 2012 - Italy

Probable Starting Lineup

Manager: Cesare Prandelli

The point at which Prandelli assumed the responsibility of this team and the point at which he now leads them to enter the Euros shows the difference he has brought. Prandelli has not done anything remarkably different. He has kept things simple and has acknowledged the fact that Italy are no more a European force they once were. This has in fact helped him build a clearer perspective to the strengths and weaknesses of his players and the seamless qualifying campaign Italy managed, after the horrors of South Africa, testifies Prandelliai??i??s ability to grind out the best of the group.

He hasnai??i??t been tactically tested against the bests in Europe yet and hence it will be premature to speak too much of him at this stage but he has so far seemed to be the right man for the job.

Key Players:

  • Gianluigi Buffon
  • Andrea Pirlo
  • Antonio Cassano

Group C Fixtures

  • Spain v Italy ai??i?? June 10
  • Italy v Croatia ai??i?? June 14
  • Italy v Republic of Ireland ai??i?? June 18

Final Verdict & Prediction

Though Italy have come a long way since 2010, this force might fall short of steam while battling it out against the best in business. The group is by all means pretty tricky and it will be interesting what Trapattoni ai??i?? the man who knows the Italian game more than anyone else ai??i?? has in store for the Azzurri. TheHardTackle predicts a nervy second place finish in the group for Prandelliai??i??s men and an exit in the quarterfinals at the hands of the winners of Group D.

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Click here to read Juventus’ contribution over the years to the national team.

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