With the New Zealand game only 24 hours away, the latest murmurs from the Italy camp suggest that Marcello Lippi will be making changes from the 1-1 draw against Paraguay.
The Italy coach is also rumoured to be scrapping his 4-2-3-1 formation used against the South Americans in favour of the 4-4-2 that served the Azzurri better in the latter stages of the game. This would see the ineffective Claudio Marchisio lose his place in the midfield in favour of Antonio Di Natale as a second striker and Vincenzo Iaquinta giving way to Mauro Camoranesi.
4-4-2 should see the team look more dangerous up front, as Alberto Gilardino looked like a man fighting for a lost cause when playing on his own. Although Di Natale has not shone for Italy as he has done at Udinese, he is the one striker in the squad that will provide a real helping hand to Gilardino, and his pace may well unsettle the New Zealand defence. Camoranesi looked good after coming on in the last match, and certainly has the quality to cause problems – even if his season with Juventus was not outstanding. This presumably leaves Riccardo Montolivo and Daniele De Rossi as the two central midfielders in the continued absence of Andrea Pirlo. Both are talented going forward, and De Rossi, after his early defensive mistake, was the standout player in the first game.
It would be nice to see a more commanding performance from the team on Sunday. Italy are the best team in the group and need to play like they really believe it, controlling the ball and using the 4-4-2 to create chances. One of the more positive signs in the match agains Paraguay was the increased security in defence. Yes, the goal came from a poorly defended free-kick, but the team looked more solid than in the warm-up games, limiting Paraguay to relatively few chances from open play.
New Zealand are not a side that are expected to cause the Azzurri too much trouble. However, as happened at the Confederations Cup last year, the Italians do have a tendency to make life difficult for themselves, and have to give adequate respect to their opponents. This becomes even more important when you look at the performance put in by the All Whites in their first game against Slovakia. Despite looking like they lacked in quality, New Zealand made up for it with determination and deserved their late equalizer. This needs to be taken as a warning that should the Italian concentration waver, they could well be punished.
The one forced change for Sunday’s match is due to the injury suffered by Gianluigi Buffon. Federico Marchetti will come in as his replacement, and the Cagliari goalkeeper will be hoping that his defence gives him the chance to show his quality. Because of the injury to Buffon, Lippi has had to designate a third goalkeeper should something dramatic happen. Interestingly, the honour seems to have been bestowed upon Sampdoria’s Angelo Palombo, who – hopefully – will not need the chance to prove himself the true all-rounder in the Italy squad.
At the risk of getting ahead of themselves, the squad must be feeling more confident in terms of the competition as a whole given the lack of real favourites. Spain, Germany, France, Portugal and even England and Holland have not looked like world beaters as of yet, and qualification from the group would leave the Azzurri with as good a chance as anybody. Daniele De Rossi said on Friday that anything less than a place in the semi-finals would feel like failure, and this is the sort of attitude that the whole squad need to adopt. There is no team to be feared so far, and if la Nazionale can hit form they could go much further than the pre-tournament performances suggested.
Ultimately, three points are vital for Italy on Sunday if they hope to take control of the group. A draw would leave everything riding on the final game against the Slovakians, where a win would be vital – and no team wants a must-win game to end the group phase. The signs so far have been hopeful that the Azzurri are starting to regain confidence, three points and a few goals against New Zealand would only help to strengthen this belief.