Estádio Castelão, Fortaleza
27 June 2013
1950, 1962, 1966 World Cups, Euro 1996 – these are some of the worst performances ever dished out by the Azzuris in major International tournaments. Yet, even in those disastrous years Italy never conceded eight goals in three group matches. In fact, Italy conceded lesser goals than that in the last two World Cups they won, in entire tournament. Admittedly, Italy have also scored eight goals in group stage, another rarity. However the completely pathetic defending in first three games has ruffled the purists in a country known for its solidity at the back. Prandelli, who had won admirers right, left and center after his side played fluid football rarely seen from La Nazionale has definitely lost some fans after these three matches.
Italy started out in reasonably solid fashion against a very poor Mexican side before scraping to a victory against Japan which they barely deserved. Against the hosts Brazil they were thoroughly outplayed for most of the game and deservedly lost 4-2. Problems are aplenty. None of the Juventus defenders seemed comfortable at all, when playing in a four-man defence. In midfield, Italy has been bereft of creativity when Andrea Pirlo failed to fire. None among Claudio Marchisio, Ricardo Montolivo or Alberto Aquilani seem confident or talented enough to dictate a midfield on their own. The right-back position seems to be a constant weak point in Italian defence and Prandelli’s hand will be further forced after Abate was forced out of the tournament with a shoulder dislocation.
To make matters worse, Mario Balotelli one of the two performers for Italy till now is set to miss out against Spain. “Super Mario” has proved time and again that in terms of talent is a mile ahead of any other Italian striker and his absence can turn the Italian attack even more insipid. Italy’s other bright spot, quite surprisingly has been Emmanuele Giaccherini. The pint-sized winger is a rare starter for Juventus but has consistently made his way into Prandelli’s Italy. Giaccherini was plying his trade in Italian Serie C just five years back but has now bagged two assists and a goal against Brazil in Confederations Cup. The “Little Goblin” is likely to start as a left wing-back against Spain as Prandelli may switch back to a 3-5-2 formation.
Prandelli’s 3-5-2 worked like a delight against Spain in Euro 2012 and it seems like he may switch back to the same formation in Confed Cup semi-final. Spain’s midfield is their greatest strength and by increasing numbers in midfield Italy stands some chance of upsetting the defending World and European champions.
Starting XI: Buffon(GK); Barzagli, Chiellini, Bonucci; Maggio, De Rossi, Pirlo, Montolivo, Giaccherini; Marchisio, El Shaaraway
The Spanish juggernaut shows absolutely no signs of stopping any time soon. Confederations Cup is the only trophy missing from Spain’s trophy cabinet and Del Bosque’s team seem hell bent of fill up the gap this year. Spain started out with a clinical victory against Uruguay before pumping a total of thirteen goals past minnows Tahiti and African champions Nigeria. Spain has been barely stretched in Confed Cup till now and further carries a psychological advantage against Italy having beaten them twice in last three matches in International competitions. To make matters worse for their opponents, even the Spanish U21 team recorded a convincing 4-2 win over their Italian counterparts in the final of recently concluded Euro U21.
Spain is likely to retain their 4-3-3 formation when they face Italy. Fernando Torres is currently the top scorer in Confederations Cup 2013 with 5 goals and it is expected that del Bosque will keep faith in him as his starting striker. Incidentally, Torres had troubled Italy after coming on as a sub against Italy in the group stage of Euro 2012 and bagged a goal in the final as well. The advanced wingers have varied for La Roja in the three games till now. Pedro and Cesc Fabregas started against Uruguay while David Villa and Juan Mata filled in for them in the second match. With semi-final passage assured by the Spain lined up against Nigeria, del Bosque brought back Fabregas and Pedro. Judging by that pattern the Barcelona pair is likely to start against Italy as well.
For Spain, Jordi Alba is likely to be a highly important figure against Azzuris. The Barcelona left-back grabbed an impressive brace against Nigeria and was a deciding factor in Euro 2012 final. His overlapping runs are likely cause Christian Maggio, who has never been a comfortable defender, a world of problems. In central midfield the Barcelona triumvirate of Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets are likely to get the nod.
Spain stumbled in the semi-final of Confed Cup 2009, slumping to a hugely surprising loss against USA. Barcelona FC, the club which contributes largest number of player to this Spanish side struggled during their semi-finals the most; even in the year’s they won Champions League under Pep Guardiola. Curiously, even Spain has struggled in semi-finals till date and was almost knocked out by Portugal in last years’ European Championship. La Furia Roja will be looking to dish out a dominant performance in semi-finals for a change.
Starting XI: Casillas(GK); Arbeloa, Pique, Ramos, Alba; Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta; Pedro, Torres, Fabregas
Players to watch out for
Jordi Alba (Spain): Alba has almost operated as a winger, rather than a full-back in Confed Cup 2013. His acceleration with the ball as well as close control is likely to cause huge problems to Christian Maggio in Italian right-wing. Should Italy play a 3-5-2, the central midfield will be crowded and Alba’s overlaps and the width he brings to this Spanish team is likely to be invaluable.
Daniele De Rossi (Italy): De Rossi missed out against Brazil because of suspension but he will be back against Spain. His lion-hearted performance as a central defender was one of the highlights of Italy’s 1-1 draw against Spain in Euro 12. His grit, determination and international experience will be one of the most important factors should Italy want to get anything out of this encounter.
Spain 3 – 1 Italy
The gulf of class and recent form between two teams is far too great for the four time world champions to change the current pattern of Italy-Spain encounters. Absence of Balotelli will hurt Italy badly while Pirlo’s fitness remains a major concern till the time of writing this article. However, Italy has pulled out a rabbit out of their hat before in their history and it will be unwise to completely rule them out but Spain still remains favorites on paper.