Spain and Italy did what was expected of them prior to the tournament as they progressed through to next stage of Euro 2012. Ireland and Croatia, on the other hand, weren’t ticked as favorites in this group and have to deal with an early exit now.
Going into the game against Ireland, Cesare Prandelli’s men knew the fate of their team in this tournament was not completely in their own hands. A victory for either Spain or Croatia and a win for the Azzurri against Ireland would be enough to go through. As luck would have it, Italy overcame Ireland by two goals – one each from Cassano and Balotelli while a late Spanish goal meant that Slaven Bilic’s Croatia had to pack their bags.
Italy – Changing Tactics to Succeed
Prandelli reverted to his 4-3-1-2 formation which served him well in the qualification stages. While the performance by the Italians wasn’t the best, they got the result and in the end the three points is all that mattered for the manager. The display by Italy was by no means of high standards that was expected of the players but the result in the end was enough to secure a quarter-final fixture against England. Ignazio Abate and Federico Balzaretti provided the width for Italy and were more effective than Christian Maggio and Emanuel Giaccherini were in the 3-5-2.
The fact that both of Italy’s goals against the Irish came from set-pieces will give the manager a lot to think about but a lack of a classic trequartista was evident. For all his solidity and steel in midfield, Thiago Motta certainly does not make for a convincing playmaker behind the strikers. Motta’s forte lies in his ability to hold the ball while his passing ability is praiseworthy. Prandelli though does have a few options in his team who could make for a more inspiring and dangerous no. 10.
Sebastian Giovinco brings flair, skill and creativity and could just be the special ingredient Italy need to carry them forward towards the final stages of the competition. The ‘Atomic Ant’ is coming off his best season yet of his career with a mighty impressive 15 goals and 11 assists in 36 Serie A games and has earned himself a return to Juventus.
Though his tiny frame has always managed to draw undesired attention towards him but he certainly hasn’t let that get in his way recently. But Prandelli prefers to use Giovinco as an impact sub. His burst in acceleration towards fatigued legs in the latter tiring stages of the game could prove to be smart tactic by the manager.
Trequartista Options for Italy
Antonio Cassano and Alessandro Diamanti too have it in them to offer Italy much more in the hole behind the strikers but Prandelli preferred to opt for Riccardo Montolivo in that very role. Montolivo was often employed as a trequartista for Italy during the qualifiers but he’s clearly more suited to a deeper midfield role. A player of his style could do with more time on the ball, something he won’t receive at a more advanced position. Montolivo simply does not have the flair, technical qualities and skill that is required for a natural trequartista.
Antonio Cassano justified his place in the starting eleven against Ireland. The AC Milan striker was lively and scored the first goal for Italy with a headed effort from an Andrea Pirlo corner. Cassano oozes creativity and is a bag full of tricks and remains Italy’s most creative option in attack. With Milan during the last season, Cassano notched up an excellent 10 assists in the 16 games he played. His intelligence and awareness on the ball would allow him to flourish in the role behind the strikers but Prandelli has opted to use him as a second striker.
His partnership with Giuseppe Rossi in the qualifiers warranted praise as Prandelli’s ‘no target-man’ approach seemed to work just fine. Alongside Antonio Di Natale in attack, Prandelli’s tactic caused a few headaches to the Irish defense. The lack of a hit-man meant Ireland’s defenders found it hard to pick up one striker. Di Natale and Cassano buzzed about the field making for an unpredictable Italy attack.
For a nation that once boasted the likes of legendary no.10′s in Del Piero, Totti and Baggio, Italy worryingly for themselves do not have a player of their caliber to carry forth the torch. While Italy aren’t the best bet to conquer this year’s Euros, they certainly can go a long way in this competition. With the level of teams increasing as we progress through to the latter stages of the competition, this Italy side is crying out for a more potent trequartista.
Defenses will be tougher to break down, time on the ball will be fractional but the quality of Italy’s play in the final third must increase. For now though, it looks almost certain that the manager, should he stick to the 4-3-1-2, will deploy either Montolivo or Motta in the hole. Prandelli has until Sunday to find a way to break down the Three Lions’ defense and with a bit of fantasy, he could make fans of Italian football dream.