Azzurri Analysis – Georgia 0-2. Italy – Milan man’s own-goal double gives Lippi three points

After another week of questioning as to why Marcelo Lippi continues to overlook Antonio Cassano, it was finally down to business in the imposing Boris Paichadze stadium in Tbilisi. There had been much speculation in the build up to the game that Lippi would start with a 4-4-2 system to accommodate Marco Marchionni. That was exactly what happened as the Fiorentina midfielder made his first appearance for the Azzurri since 2006 in a midfield that also included Andrea Pirlo, Angelo Palombo and Mauro Camoranesi. A major surprise was Lippi’s inclusion of Genoa’s Domenico Criscito at left- back – the youngster’s pace was a major factor in his selection and with Gianluca Zambrotta slotting in on the other flank, the Azzurri certainly had this in abundance. Fabio Cannavaro captained the squad with Giorgio Chiellini alongside him in the centre of defence. Gianluigi Buffon was between the posts with the firepower up front coming from Vicenzo Iaquinta and Giuseppe Rossi.

In the frantic opening exchanges, as the home crowd willed on their countrymen, Pirlo’s coolness on the ball stood out. The Milan playmaker was covering every blade of a grass on an atrocious surface to try to orchestrate the Azzurri’s play. Time after time in the opening half hour, he was picking up the ball in front of his defence and sending searching balls over the top of the Georgian back four in the hope that the pace of Iaquinta and Rossi could make the breakthrough. This was the Pirlo of some years ago, and he seemed to want to make a point to the critics who had not been too kind to him since the Confederations Cup in South Africa. Camoranesi was also busy in the opening forty five minutes, his astute runs in behind the front two almost paid dividends 12 minutes in when he latched on to a cross from Iaquinta but his header was wide of the mark. Just three minutes later, the Juventus midfield man had another effort on goal but his shot was again well off target. The game was by no means a classic – it was becoming a messy affair with lots of niggling stoppages as Georgia tried to knock the Azzurri off their stride. By far the outstanding player of the half was Pirlo, but his efforts to supply the ammunition to the front two were in vain. Marchionni had been anonymous in the opening 45 minutes, playing wide on the right the game had passed him by as Camoranesi on the left side of midfield had a far greater influence on the play. Together with Criscito they seemed to have a good understanding. The left back made an impressive foray forward just before the break and as he was fell in the penalty box, all eyes looked to the Polish referee who remained unconvinced and waived away the Italian appeals. Lippi would be looking for improvements in the second half.

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No changes were made by Lippi during the break, and as half time began the game settled into the same pattern as the first 45 minutes. Georgia then started to increase the pressure and on 55 minutes, a Vladimir Dvalishvilli header forced a wonderful point blank save from Buffon although the player was clearly in an offside position. Two minutes later the breakthrough finally came for the Azzurri in bizarre circumstances. A speculative shot from Angelo Palombo was diverted into his own net by Georgian skipper and Milan defender Kakha Kaladze. Italy had a precious lead. A change was needed and Lippi replaced the disappointing Marchionni with Gaetano D’Agostino, hoping to add more steel to the central area and to protect the advantage whilst at the same time introducing Napoli hitman Fabio Quagliarella as Giuseppe Rossi made way. Within ten minutes, the Italians had doubled their advantage when incredibly Kaladze intercepted a cross from Criscito only to put through his own net for a second time. The crowd were stunned into silence and the pressure was lifted off Lippi’s men. Camoranesi was withdrawn to be replaced by Davide Santon who slotted into a right midfield position, showing his versatility for one so young. The game was entering its final stages and Buffon was called upon to make another reflex save, only this time it was to prevent the third own goal of the evening as Criscito unwittingly sent the ball towards his own goal. The game ended in a crescendo of jeers from the home crowd whose vitriol was aimed primarily at their talisman Kaladze. The Azzurri got the three points but it was not pleasant to watch and Lippi will have more questions than answers after another below par performance. On the plus side, Giorgio Chiellini had one of his better performances in the Azzurri shirt, playing with far more assurance than of late. Pirlo, although fading in the second half as the playing surface took its toll, proved to his coach that he can build a team around him and Criscito was solid at left-back. But the worry for Lippi is the ability to find a strike force that can play together. Iaquinta’s devastating club form seems to desert him at international level and his relationship with Rossi was disappointing. Quagliarella looked sharp and may well start on Wednesday night against Bulgaria. With Daniele De Rossi returning for the midweek clash in Turin, Lippi could consider returning to a midfield diamond with Pirlo and Camoranesi operating as the pivotal points as the emphasis will be on the Italians to attack right from the start. After another stuttering display, the clamour for Cassano’s return will be more fervent than ever.



– The 23-man World Cup squad (according to Football Italiano )


– Italy Camp Focus – And it came to pass…
– June 23, 2009 – A reflection of the Azzurri at the Confederations Cup, plus links to Football Italiano’s full coverage of the competition

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September 5, 2009 – Boris Paichadze Stadium, Tbilisi

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Azzurri Analysis – Milan man’s own-goal double gives Lippi three points

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