It was a tough 90 minutes to endure for the Azzurri fans as Italy (it might as well have been Juventus as five of the Bianconeri formed the starting line-up) faced USA. The match, as it did in the 2006 World Cup, proved to be as competitive as ever as we saw a penalty, ridiculous tackles, a red card (when perhaps there should have been two) and a heartbroken USA. As ever, Italy suffered against a physically strong opposition and the formation Marcello Lippi chose to start the game with, simply did not help the matter.
Giuseppe Rossi was the man to save Italy’s blushes and scored a goal from his first touch having come on as a substitute for the out-of-breath Gennaro Gattuso. His absolute screamer from over 30-yards left the audience in awe of the American kid and the Italian media clamouring to have the Villarreal striker back home. Lippi, who wants Serie A rid of any foreign blood, wants all Italian players to ply their trade in the peninsula. While it would be nice to have this young sensation injecting much needed pace into some tiring Serie A giants, his valuable experience gained from his time in the top two leagues of the world may have given him the edge and helped him seal his inclusion in the Azzurri line-up. A perfect national squad is one that fields the right balance of young and old players and should be a good combination of learned skills and experience gathered. The Premier League is based on physical strength and pace and La Liga is both technical and exciting. Rossi, a perfect melange of the two super leagues’ strengths coupled with Italian technical ability, was part of the reason he was difference between the two sides on Monday night.
Fabio Grosso is another who plays abroad and who had an excellent game against the Americans. His much-needed pace and ability to go forward continue to make him a firm favourite with Lippi and he continues to be a pillar in the back line. Grosso can do no wrong when wearing the national team shirt and should never be counted out. His talent and necessary experience will make it hard for David Santon to break through. Regardless of the technical superiority of Serie A, players should experience different leagues to aid in their intellectual development and strengthen their capacity to read the game and their opposition when playing for the national side. That’s not to say that all players should fly off and start playing in different leagues but they should not all be encouraged to remain in Italy for much of their lives for the sake of the home league. Fernando Torres is quite possibly one of the best strikers in the world who plays for Liverpool and hopes to one day feature in Serie A. Has La Liga suffered without him and would Liverpool be better off with another? Serie A is dwindling and it needs its country’s greatest talents to help keep it alive but great players who have the chance to play for great teams in the top leagues should be allowed their time away to enhance their skill-set and provide the Azzurri with valuable inside knowledge.
Much has been made of Lippi’s ageing squad at the Confederations Cup. With an average age of 28, some say it is not that much higher than Spain’s that stands at 26. Nevertheless, this tournament was meant to be a ‘dress rehearsal’ for the World Cup and a perfect chance for Lippi to try and test different tactics and fresh young talent. The youngsters have been generously handed to the Under-21 team leaving the senior squad without said youth’s hunger for success and bright energy. Eight players who started the match against USA were members of the World Cup-winning squad and three years on, no progress has been made and hardly any youngsters have been introduced. The Confederations Cup, by Lippi’s admission, is not a Cup the Italians are desperate for so why was this opportunity to launch the Azzurri career of the youngsters not grabbed with both hands?
We mentioned in the last Italy Camp Focus that Fabio Quagliarella was the man to monitor in this tournament and with the disastrous formation of 4-3-3, he may well have been the man to prove that the line-up was not entirely flawed. He abides by the Lippi law to ‘run run run’ and was yet not offered the chance to prove that he may well have what it takes. The forever inconsistent Alberto Gilardino and the past-it Luca Toni were favoured and will be again against Egypt. The former is a sensation for Fiorentina and the most in-form Azzurri forward, but as he demonstrated during his stint in Milan, he cannot always be relied upon to perform. He disappeared on the pitch against the Americans despite a formation that best suited his skills and frankly, when thinking of the likes of Giuseppe Meazza and Roberto Baggio, this man cannot be considered as anything other than average. Toni no longer possesses the physical form and the perfect finish to be considered despite his constant reiteration of having scored 61 goals for the Bundesliga. Critics may have perked up and listened had he managed the same amount of goals in the Premier League or La Liga but Toni missed two great chances for goal on Monday and will struggle to find a place in the starting line-up for Bayern Munich next season. If the Germans doubt his talent at club level, should Lippi really be pinning his hopes on the towering Italian? Furthermore Toni depends far too much on the midfield to hand him the goals in stark contrast to Quagliarella who, with his outstanding dribbling skills, provides the necessary bridge between the middle and front line.
The defence also needs to be bolstered and an heir to Fabio Cannavaro needs to be found and pronto. The captain is nearing the end of his career and whist Nicola Legrottaglie is his natural heir, the Bianconero is not a good enough replacement and is too old to develop his skills any further. Salvatore Bocchetti should have really been included in the squad, with strong tackling abilities coupled with excellent timing and a knack to leap enough to promote him to the senior squad. He could be the heir to Cannavaro and certainly favoured to Legrottaglie who fluffed a great chance for goal on Monday and looked nervous the entire night. Lippi at least called up Alessandro Gamberini and once again the future of the squad is left on the bench. Is Claudio Ranieri recruiting Lippi into his war against youth?
The next match will pitch the Italians against a plucky Egyptian side who will be eager to punish any defensive errors as demonstrated in their game against Brazil. The 4-3-3 formation must be ditched in favour of 4-4-2 or 4-3-1-2 to cover the holes in the midfield and help the team to push forward. The latter formation revived the Azzurri in the second half but it does heavily depend on a sturdy defence and the back line patrollers must ensure they can cope with the added responsibility should they start with that line-up. Grosso will fit into the new formation perfectly as he has a knack of running up and down the flank to ensure his side is covered. Gianluca Zambrotta will need to replicate Grosso’s energy on the right flank if he wishes to deny the goal-hungry Egyptian strikers who will easily use the space to their advantage. Zambrotta did a fine job in defence against USA but he just didn’t have the strength to come forward and vast amounts of energy are required when playing an African nation.
Egypt will not be the easy opposition that Italy had hoped for when arriving in Africa. The Pharaohs are without the pressure that may wear down the Italians and enjoy a good balance of veterans and rising starlets. However, what the North African team lack, Italy has in abundance. Egypt are without real attacking options as Amr Zaki is ruled out due to injury and Mido has been left out of the squad for reasons similar to those that have seen Antonio Cassano excluded. They are hoping that Mohamed Zidan can provide consistent performances and thunderbolt goals to keep them in the tournament and provide him with the necessary experience to improve his provincial mentality. Whilst Italy is known for superb team work and a winning mentality, Egypt is suffering low self esteem, having settled for a draw against a humble Zambia in a recent World Cup qualifier. But their gutsy performance against favourites Brazil may have restored confidence. It will be up to them to choose whether or not to use their anger at having marginally missed out on a draw against the Seleção to motivate them against Italy or resign themselves to the fact that tactically, they are inferior to the Azzurri.
June 6, 2009 – 19:50 – Arena Garibaldi, Pisa
Italy 3-0 Northern Ireland – Rossi 19, Foggia 52, Pellissier 73
June 10, 2009 – 19:50 – Super Stadium, Pretoria
Italy 4-3 New Zealand – Gilardino 33, 48, Iaquinta 68, 73; Smeltz 13, Killen 42, pen 57
Fixtures & Results
June 15, 2009 – 20:30 – Loftus Versfeld Stadium, Pretoria
Italy 3-1 USA – Rossi 58, 93, De Rossi 72; Donovan 41
June 18, 2009 – 20:30 – Coca-Cola Park, Johannesburg
Italy vs. Egypt
June 21, 2009 – 20:30 – Loftus Versfeld Stadium, Pretoria
Italy vs. Brazil
June 24-25, 2009 – both 20:30 – Vodacom Park, Bloemfontein & Coca-Cola Park, Johannesburg
June 28, 2009 – 15:00 – Royal Bafokeng Stadium, Rustenburg
Third place play-off
June 28, 2009 – 20:30 – Coca-Cola Park, Johannesburg