In defence of the Azzurri

In the build up to Italy’s friendly against Spain, much of the speculation has centred on how the Azzurri will function in attack and whether Antonio Cassano, Giuseppe Rossi and Mario Balotelli will form a much talked about forward trident. With the attack hogging most of the spotlight, the defence, perhaps the weakest part of the Italian side, has avoided the close inspection it warrants.
Of the defenders called into the current squad by Cesare Prandelli, only Giorgio Chiellini has more than 15 caps to his name. Between them the other seven defenders can only muster a meagre 51 caps. Of the eight defenders in the squad, only two play for teams that finished in the top four last season, Christian Maggio at Napoli and Andrea Ranocchia who only joined Inter in January.
The Italian defence, then, is nothing if not inexperienced. Where in the past they could call on the likes of Alessandro Nesta, Fabio Cannavaro, Paolo Maldini or Marco Materazzi, now the burden rests squarely on the shoulders of Chiellini. While he is undoubtedly a fine player, to expect him to lead a defence made up of players all of whom are relatively new to the international stage is much too much to ask.
However, while the rest of the defence may be inexperienced, there is certainly talent available. While still somewhat raw and in need of refinement, both Andrea Ranocchia and Leonardo Bonucci have great futures ahead of them at club level and with la Nazionale. Angelo Ogbonna is certainly an interesting talent and, despite currently playing in Serie B, could get a move to a big club before the summer is over.
Perhaps more worrying than the central area is the lack of any top class full backs in the squad. Along with Maggio, Domenico Criscito, Federico Balzaretti and Mattia Cassani all had fine seasons last time out, but none of them can claim to be anywhere near the best in the world and only Criscito really has time on his side at 24. There are no names to rival the likes of Maldini or Gianluca Zambrotta, no one that would strike fear into the heart of an opposing winger.
Despite this lack of really world-class defenders though, there is hope yet for the Azzurri back line. Behind them in goal is Gianluigi Buffon, arguably one of the best ‘keepers of all time, offering them the benefit of his many years of experience at the top level. Daniele De Rossi who, at just 28, already has over 60 caps and is one of the best midfield spoilers in the world, shields the defence. Add this to the experience and ability of Chiellini and the talent at Prandelli’s disposal and there are the makings of a solid back line.
That back line will come up against the sternest of tests against World and European Champions Spain on Wednesday and Prandelli will be hoping that his defensive wall does not crumble when the spotlight eventually shines on it.

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