The Germans are going to have to wait longer for their first win over Italy since 1995. A 1-1 draw in Dortmund – a result that the Azzurri just about deserved – ensures their hoodoo over Germany will stretch into a 17th year at the very least. For long periods of the game, the three-time world champions looked highly likely to break that spell, so it’s credit to Italy for managing to grind out a draw. Nevertheless, the jury remains out on Coach Cesare Prandelli’s new-look tactics, particularly his midfield set-up.
Italy started with the expected 4-3-1-2 and the personnel Prandelli named long before the game kicked off. They started the game reasonably well but Germany assumed control not long after – so much so that after 20 minutes they had almost 80% of possession, which gives you an idea of their level of dominance over much of the first half.
The tempo of the game was rather languid – neither team pressured the other a great deal and it contributed to Germany’s relative comfort in possession and the ease with which they were able to keep the ball. The Italian midfield had real difficulty gaining a foothold in the match. They did not keep the ball as well as the opposition and their use of it going forward was rather predictable.
Unsurprisingly, Antonio Cassano was the only player who looked likely to create a goalscoring opportunity, but that was through his individual talent and ability to beat a player, rather than playing the final ball to end a passing move. Once the German defence cottoned on to the tactic, he became more and more negated as the half went on, sometimes finding himself crowded out by three players.
The pre-planned half-time substitutions Prandelli announced would take place – replacing the two strikers – had little effect because the main issue was the midfield. The same personnel remained in this area for the start of the second half, and the same problems kept occurring – Germany had a lot more of the ball and were able to create sustained pressure on Italy’s defence.
Riccardo Montolivo and Stefano Mauri were the two biggest culprits. Both were expected to aid the team creatively and in possession but they were so anonymous that it was a surprise Prandelli kept the former on for the entire game, whilst the latter was not replaced until the 74th minute.
In any case, the game-changer was the introduction of Alberto Aquilani on the hour. He came on for Thiago Motta, who had not really done much wrong in his position in front of the defence, and it saw Daniele De Rossi move inside to take on the substituted Inter man’s role.
Immediately, Aquilani was asking for the ball in areas of the pitch that no Italian midfielder had even attempted to enter, and his movement gave his German counterparts something to think about for the first time in the game.
It allowed a period of Azzurri pressure to build and culminated in the Giuseppe Rossi goal, with an assist from Domenico Criscito (who came on for Giorgio Chiellini), who forayed forward from left-back and gave Prandelli something to think about when it comes to picking the right individual for that slot.
Every cloud has a silver lining and the amount of opposition possession ensured the defensive side of Italy’s game was tested. It speaks volumes for their performance that other than the goal and a late 85th minute Sami Khedira effort, Germany had no real clear-cut chances. For all their ball retention, their forwards were stifled remarkably well.
Andrea Ranocchia was nothing short of superb, despite some shaky efforts for Inter in recent games, and looks made for international football. He was the stand-out performer in a defence that played very well. Most of the players on show in this area will form the main bulk of the defensive picks in future squads for the next few years, so it will no doubt please Prandelli that they came through such a tough examination.
The Coach described the Germany side as well-drilled, and this gives a clue as to the next step forward for Italy. The defence is settling and there are many options for the forward line, but the midfield is still filled with uncertainty.
He does not appear sure of his best choices here, evidenced by an immediate start for debutant Thiago Motta, and in return the players do not give an impression of a collective midfield that knows its style and method of playing. Once this is solved, we may well see an Azzurri team ready to compete against the finest in international football.