The 2-0 defeat to Brazil on Tuesday night is likely to provoke widespread overreaction from media in the peninsula, as well as those giving their respected opinion on the state of La Nazionale. Allow Football Italiano to provide you with the sensible, rationalised, middle ground.
The game, and the manner in which it was lost, will not come as a surprise to those who have been watching Italy since Marcello Lippi took over the reins for a second time. Quite simply, they have been getting away with similar displays against mediocre opposition since the World Cup winners second coming in July 2008. Austria, Cyprus, Georgia, Bulgaria, Montenegro and Greece have all been made to look pretty handy teams by an Azzurri side huffing and puffing throughout the 90 minutes. As soon as they came up against one of the major forces in international football, the sub-standard performance was not enough.
It is difficult to know where to start when it comes to explaining the reverse at the Emirates Stadium – so many aspects of the team were not up to scratch. However, the one common denominator in all of this is the formation – the dreadful 4-3-3 turning into a slight 4-2-3-1 – with which the four-time World Champions have been blighted ever since Roberto Donadoni took charge. You would have thought a Coach with the brains of Lippi would have been paying attention to its spectacular failure at Euro 2008, alas this is not the case. He has utilised this system in every game bar the first qualifier against Cyprus. Tuesday evening was another in the growing list of unsuccessful attempts to make it work. It was obvious some time ago that Italy does not have the right players to make it a success, and the players they do have are not comfortable in its use. Brazil, who have had dire draws with Bolivia and Peru in South American World Cup qualifying, ruthlessly exposed a team who are still lost in the maze that is this formation. The ineffective wide men, the lack of goals from midfield and the lone striker who must know by now he is left with a thankless task and inevitable post-match criticism when he fails to shine without support. The unfortunate victim this time was Alberto Gilardino, the same striker who is currently second in the Capocannoniere charts.
One player whose poor displays are not as a result of the horrible system is Riccardo Montolivo, captain at Fiorentina, a team who last season finished 4th in Serie A playing the very same formation. For the second consecutive international he was substituted at half-time, and rightly so as he once more looked out of his depth. Continually being touted as one of the next generation of Italian stars, one must wonder whether he is truly cut out for football at this level. He has not performed well in any of his four appearances to date, and although he must be given time to adapt to the demands placed on players at this standard, the Azzurri Tactician has Alberto Aquilani, who has already impressed, waiting in the wings.
La Viola’s creative lynchpin was one of four players taken off at the break, as Lippi switched to 4-4-2. Giuseppe Rossi was given 45 minutes to demonstrate his considerable talents in his preferred position, up-front with a striker partner (Luca Toni in this instance). The Villarreal front-man once again showed glimpses of the talent he could possibly bring to the side, if given the opportunity. Unfortunately, he was caught up in a generally lethargic second half effort to level the match, though it must be noted the overall performance did improve slightly with the switch in formation, just as it did against the Greeks in November. Quite why the former Juventus Coach continues to persist 4-3-3 when it is clear the 4-4-2 is garnering a greater level of understanding and fluidity in attack only he knows.
Laying the blame solely on the formation used does not explain the entire story. The Tuscan born boss outlined one particular problem before the match had been played in that most of his players had been involved in club matches only 48 hours before this friendly. Contrast this with Brazil, who had key players like Robinho and Ronaldinho in action on the Saturday. The potential tiredness may go some way to explaining the aforementioned lethargy, but it does not excuse the lack of new faces that would undoubtedly invigorate a side in need of a shot in the arm. So far, only Montolivo, who has failed, Rossi and a workmanlike Simone Pepe have been added. Lippi explained in the build-up to the game that he did not want to add all of the potential new recruits at once, stating that he did not believe it is the way a team should be built. As correct as he probably is in that respect, more than three fresh players are certainly needed, especially with one struggling to adapt to the higher level at this current moment. In saying that, he does appear to have a plan in mind as to where he wants the national team by 2010, and how he intends to go about reaching that goal. His post-match interview, in which he stated he believes Italy “could be stronger” than Brazil by the 2010 World Cup, suggests that new players are firmly in his thoughts, but that they will be filtered through to the Azzurri, instead of a mass introduction at once. Having built great club sides in the past, the tifosi will surely have nothing but faith and trust in the man who is after all, a current World Champion.