In what is the first major competitive game since the embarrassing showing in the Confederations Cup, Marcello Lippi needs more than just a win in Tbilisi – he needs an emphatic performance from his Azzurri. Having been castigated and written off by critics following the dismal showing in South Africa, August’s frustrating goalless friendly in Switzerland did little to soften the consternation felt by many in the peninsula about the form of the national side. The former Juventus and Inter Coach will be hoping that the restart of Serie A will have improved players’ match fitness and given them a bit more impetus compared with the lethargic performances in the summer.
In a sign of continuity, Lippi has stuck with many of the players who appeared in that stalemate with the Swiss and has only chosen to welcome Fiorentina’s Marco Marchionni into the fold, following a three year absence from the international scene. Genoa’s defender Salvatore Bocchetti is the only name not wilfully retained from the encounter with Switzerland, while Filippo Inzaghi, Alessandro Del Piero and Amauri have all been overlooked.
Gennaro Gattuso misses the call-up after picking up an ankle injury during his red-card performance in the 4-0 defeat to Inter and Claudio Marchisio is to be subjected to fitness tests for muscular fatigue. In a bid to ensure some sense of security at the halfway stage in the World Cup qualifying campaign, Lippi has even named Daniele De Rossi in the squad despite him being suspended from Saturday night’s clash with the Georgians but being available for the arguably more important game with Bulgaria.
Georgia will probably be breathing a huge sigh of relief at the fact that De Rossi is unavailable, as the Roma midfielder either has a goal-scoring vendetta against the Caucasus country or simply a deft knack for eluding its goalkeepers with long range efforts. The Giallorossi stalwart proved the difference when the two teams met in Udine over a year ago in the reverse of this tie, bagging a brace as Italy walked out winners in a dire clash at the start of the World Cup qualifying campaign. That win affixed Italy at the top of the Group Eight standings, from where they have yet to be dislodged, and looked to be an indicator of the reigning world champions walking away with the group even if things have not proved so simple since then. However, the tie also represented the plummet that has left Georgia fixed to the root of the table and almost certain not to be featuring in South Africa for next summer.
It is an understatement to say that Georgia have faired poorly in qualification thus far – they have only accumulated three points in seven games and all of them coming from draws. Recent friendly games have not proven any easier for the Georgians, as they managed a 1-1 draw with fellow international minnows Albania and then slumped to a 2-0 defeat to not-exactly-international-powerhouses Malta at the beginning of August. The last time that Georgia achieved a victory in a competitive tie was as far back as October 2007 when a youthful side turned over Scotland 3-0. But, Argentinean head coach Hector Cuper has a brood of young talent coming through, including Palermo’s Levan Mchedlidze, and the Georgians feel very much like a work in progress at this stage.
The core of the Georgian team is set to be the captain, out-of-favour Milan centre-back Kakha Kaladze. Kaladze’s partnership with Blackburn Rovers’ Zurab Khizanishvili combines the two most experienced players in the Georgian squad and Cuper will hope to have the pair fit, as they have only started two games together thus far in qualifying. The Georgian backline, with or without its veteran defenders, is hardly impenetrable and has conceded nine goals in the opening seven matches. The minnows will need a steely and defiant performance in the Lokomotivi Stadium on Saturday night to halt a repeat of the last time the two countries met on Georgian soil.
Having shared the same qualifying group for the 2008 European Championships, the Azzurri travelled to Tbilisi in September 2006 three games into that successful qualification campaign and bagged a 3-1 win in comfortable circumstances. Italy returned to the peninsula victorious with goals from that man De Rossi, a looping header from Mauro Camoranesi and a late third from Simone Perotta cancelling out a George Shashiashvili pile-driver.
Italy can’t afford at this stage to take teams like Georgia with an air of complacency. All the smart money would definitely be geared towards the Azzurri carrying out a confidence-enhancing win over the tiny former Soviet Union nation but as the tricky tie away to Montenegro and the 0-0 draw in Bulgaria have shown, Eastern Europe isn’t always the kindest of environments for Lippi’s men to ply their trade.
– Italy Camp Focus – And it came to pass… – June 23, 2009 – A reflection of the Azzurri at the Confederations Cup, plus links to Football Italiano’s full coverage of the competition
FIFA World Cup 2010 Qualifying – UEFA Group 8
September 6, 2008 – Antonis Papadopoulos Stadium, Larnaca
Cyprus 1-2 Italy – Aloneftis 28; Di Natale 8, 90
September 10, 2008 – Stadio Friuli, Udine
Italy 2-0 Georgia – De Rossi 17, 89
October 11, 2008 – Vasil Levski National Stadium, Sofia
Bulgaria 0-0 Italy
October 15, 2008 – Via del Mare, Lecce
Italy 2-1 Montenegro – Aquilani 8,29; Vučinić 19
March 28, 2009 – Pod Goricom, Podgorica
Montenegro 0-2 Italy – Pirlo 11, Pazzini 73
April 1, 2009 – Stadio San Nicola, Bari
Italy 1-1 Republic of Ireland – Iaquinta 10; Keane 87
September 5, 2009 – Boris Paichadze Stadium, Tbilisi
Georgia vs. Italy
September 9, 2009 – Stadio Olimpico, Turin
Italy vs. Bulgaria
October 10, 2009 – Croke Park, Dublin
Republic of Ireland vs. Italy
October 14, 2009 – venue tbc
Italy vs. Cyprus
World Cup South Africa 2010 Final draw – December 4, 2009