Marcello Lippi’s absence from the Euro 2012 draw in Warsaw was luckily the only media-grabbing news about Italy’s grouping for the continental qualifiers. The Azzurri have avoided some of the tougher teams in the draw but cannot allow themselves to heave a sigh of relief just yet.
The Italians will have to contend with Serbia, Slovenia, Northern Ireland, Estonia and Faroe Islands in Group C. Though Serbia seem to be the only competition for Italy in the battle for the top spot, outsiders Slovenia have proved over the last few years that they should not be discounted easily. Northern Ireland are an unpredictable quantity and though they won’t be real contenders for qualification they are certainly capable of springing the odd surprise.
Serbia have showed during their World Cup qualifying efforts that they are a side that needs to be respected by everyone. The Serbs topped their group finishing above France and for the 2006 World Cup they were unbeaten through their campaign toppling Spain on the way. There is obvious quality in the squad, and many talented youngsters are coming through the ranks of the national team. In fact the plethora of young starlets in the Serbian team is astonishing and rivals the Spanish youth academy.
Adem Ljajic, Zoran Tosic, Neven Subotic, Nemanja Matic and even Inter youngster Alen Stevanović, who has had problems with the national team, are promising stars for the future. Even the current Serbian team has established players in all the top sides, with left-back Aleksandr Kolarov catching the attention of everyone on the continent this term. The trip to Serbia in particular in an extremely hostile environment will prove to be the trickiest game for the Italians out of the lot.
Slovenia may not prove to be as much of a challenge as the Serbs but they are a team which epitomizes the importance of hard-working individuals and team-work. Udinese goalkeeper, Samir Handanovic, has been an integral part of the national setup and as strikers in Calcio will testify it is hard to get the ball past him. Bojan Jokić who recently joined Chievo on loan is also a budding talent. At just 23, he has already earned 32 caps at the top level and is a speedy left-back who likes getting forward.
Robert Koren, the team captain, is in charge of running the midfield. Koren plays for Championship side West Bromwich Albion and has been central to the Baggies system for the past few years. Andrej Komac is Koren’s aide in the midfield. Komac is widely considered to be one of the finest players Slovenia has provided in recent times. He has never played at a major European club but is a proven match-winner. Also in the midfield Inter youngster Rene Krhin will be looking to make his mark for the Slovenians. Krhin despite being only 19 is expected to travel with the national team to the World Cup and the tutelage of Jose Mourinho can only mean well for the youngster. Upfront Milivoje Novakovič and Zlatko Dedic are a handful for defenses in the Bundesliga and they should continue to impress during campaign.
As can be gathered from the above, Italy would do well to look out for these teams in their qualification bid. There are potential points to be dropped and the Azzurri will have to be on the top of their game. However the question bothering most Italians will probably be who will lead the Azzurri out considering Lippi’s imminent resignation.