Italy’s routine win over Estonia on Friday evening has brought qualification for Euro 2012 well within sight for the Azzurri. Naturally the Group C standings are the most important thing, but the most striking aspect to the victory was the style of football played to achieve the result.
2 Maggio – 15 Ranocchia – 3 Chiellini – 6 Balzaretti
18 Montolivo – 21 Pirlo – 8 Marchisio
22 Rossi – 10 Cassano
The first thing to dismiss is that the football was akin to that of Barcelona. It was pleasing on the eye, and the movement of the ball and the players was very good, but any comparisons to Barcelona (comparisons which irritated Coach Cesare Prandelli pre-match) are wide of the mark.
There were, however, small references to that method of playing. Italy kept the ball very well, helped by having a midfield packed with players adept at doing so, and selecting two strikers like Antonio Cassano and Giuseppe Rossi ensured the movement off the ball was good enough to take advantage of the possession.
Indeed, it was the two strikers that were the most intriguing aspect of the line-up. Giuseppe Rossi, although occasionally performing the role for Villarreal, is not a natural prima punta, where he played on Friday. It was nevertheless good to see an obviously talented player playing close to his best position through the middle, as opposed to being shunted wide as so often happened under Marcello Lippi. His resulting performance will have given Prandelli food for thought and his rivals for a spot in the XI something to worry about, as he generally flourished leading the line.
It was the Cassano-Rossi combination that led to the first goal, and the latter in particular remained a threat for the rest of the time he spent on the pitch with his pace and willingness to get behind the Estonian defence. Prandelli is not short of possible partners for Cassano, but it is this pace and clever movement which ensures Rossi is suitably different from the other candidates.
The problem that may arise with the 24-year-old is what he does when his team are not in such total control, and the 1-1 draw against Romania in November 2010 gave Prandelli a glimpse of what happens in this situation. In that game, he started with Rossi and Mario Balotelli in attack, but admitted afterwards that both played too close to the midfield (primarily because that area had no hold on proceedings), and so the team lacked depth and penetration.
It perhaps explains why the choice of Rossi against the Estonians appeared to be, at least judging by Prandelli’s pre-match explanation, a ‘horses for courses’ selection, one specifically for the task of beating a minnow. Unfortunately, Italy are not going to play Estonia each time, and you would expect most of the traditional powerhouses of international football to control the game and run rings around them in a similar fashion. It is therefore difficult to get too excited about the overall performance, as good as it was.
That should not detract from the style and manner in which Italy won the game – previous Azzurri sides would have achieved the result, and probably the same scoreline too, but it would not have been as pleasing to watch and that is testament to the steps forward taken by Prandelli’s team.
There are still a few problems to be solved. It may only have happened twice, but Estonia did have opportunities on the counter-attack where they had a lot of space to run at the Italian defence. Thus, the return of Daniele De Rossi is very important, or at the very least a workable alternative to when he is not in the team. Good international sides will make Italy pay for such an offensive midfield, and they will certainly have more defending to do in games against said sides, so it is important the players in this area are able to fulfil that function as well as entertain.