In a highly-charged and emotional return to Florence, Italy thrashed lowly Faroe Islands 5-0 as Cesare Prandelli changed many of the faces as well as the formation from Friday’s win in Estonia.
After the less than impressive showing in Estonia on Friday night, it was imperative that the Azzurri put on a good show in front of the home crowd and won convincingly. However no matter how many goals they racked up it was never going to be viewed as a spectacular result. The Azzurri has arguably become a victim of their own success in recent years as the Italian publics’ expectations have skyrocketed. The choice of venue for Prandelli’s first competitive home fixture was very fitting. The Stadio Franchi in Florence, where the Coach has just spent five years in charge of Fiorentina, was always going to be a kind venue to really try and kick on with the Azzurri’s qualifying campaign.
Prandelli used the 4-3-3 formation on Friday night against Estonia, but he opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation, which brought so much success to Milan during Carlo Ancelotti’s tenure. This meant out went Giampaolo Pazzini and Simone Pepe, who had occupied the central striking role and one of the flanks respectively on Friday night. He kept faith with Antonio Cassano (who had been the star of the show in Estonia) and recalled the prodigal son of Florence, Alberto Gilardino, to lead the line up front. This meant that the more creative talents of Antonio Cassano and Giuseppe Rossi were used in the hole behind their elder front-man.
In the centre of the park, Prandelli kept faith with the three men who had started in Estonia. This meant that the Azzurri also had creativity from deeper positions in the form of Andrea Pirlo and Riccardo Montolivo. So much flair shouldn’t be needed against one of the lesser nations such as the Faroes, but after Friday’s performance, it was always going to be a case of better to be safe than sorry. It was at the back that Prandelli made his most notable changes. Out went Salvatore Sirigu, Mattia Cassani and Cristian Molinaro, and in came Emiliano Viviano, Lorenzo De Silvestri and Luca Antonelli. The choice of Bologna keeper Viviano was an interesting one as the 24-year-old stopper was born in Florence and thus returning to his hometown. Prandelli opted to remove Sirigu from the firing line after his error resulted in Estonia’s goal on Friday night which nearly proved to be costly. All this meant that as well as tweaking the formation slightly, Prandelli had changed five of the personnel from Friday’s less than impressive showing.
The signs were good before the game, when it was noted that the Faroes had already played two qualifying games and lost them both. However, they had lost both previous meetings with the Azzurri, but had managed to score both times. The Azzurri dominated the early stages of the game and nearly went in front on three occasions in the first 10 minutes alone. Cassano wasting a chance, Pirlo clipping the post and Montolivo also going close. They finally took the lead after 11 minutes when Gilardino glanced a header home from a corner kick. This meant that the Azzurri had now scored three goals in their qualifying campaign, all of them from corner kicks. It was also Gilardino’s first goal in an Azzurri shirt for 11 months, and it came at his home stadium. They added to this with goals from Daniele De Rossi, Cassano, Fabio Quagliarella and Pirlo, to make the result very respectable.
The side seemed more balanced and quicker in attack with the newer formation of Cassano and Rossi playing a little deeper. When he is in such game-changing form, it is hard to believe how Marcello Lippi could not find room for the little Sampdoria front man in his World Cup team. The players were performing with a smile on their face in the second half, it was a delight to watch at times. The Azzurri must not get carried away and remember that it was only the Faroes they were up against. One would imagine the scene will not be quite the same when they travel to Serbia and Slovenia. There seems to be a new and tougher character to Prandelli’s Azzurri which could see them through. This will be tested in Belfast next month when Italy travel to face a very well organised Northern Ireland team at Windsor Park. The Azzurri will need all the character they can muster for that trip.