Cesare Prandelli has insisted that tomorrow’s Euro 2012 qualifier will be about results and not experimentation and yet with five previously uncapped players called up amid the burden of multiple injuries, the Azzurri team Coach will be forced to experiment with his new line-up that is largely composed of Juve and Sampdoria players.
On paper, this seems like an easy fixture for the Italians who will play their first competitive match under the tutelage of Prandelli tomorrow. Estonia, a country that only started their footballing history approximately 18 years ago by partaking in the 1994 World Cup qualifiers, boast no real stars to truly threaten four time World Cup Winners, Italy. In fact, Italy have never lost a game whilst playing Estonia away and have only conceded one goal from the former Soviet state. However, two injury time goals against Group C’s other minnows, the Faroe Islands, should prove that the small country will not be an easy opponent for Prandelli’s newly formed squad. In their first qualifier, Estonia’s Coach remained calm despite conceding an unlikely goal and coolly made the right substitutions to win the game that saw the equaliser goal arrive courtesy of the link-up between two substitutes. Much like Italy, they possess a problem when it comes to creating but they can be threatening from set pieces and their players possess a never-say-die attitude that Italy seem to have lost since winning the biggest trophy in football in 2006.
Attacking wise, the ex-Viola Coach will be without his future favourites, Amauri and Mario Balotelli as they have both picked up injuries that will rule them out of both qualifiers this week. However, tactically, Prandelli is still likely to stick with the 4-3-3 formation with Cassano playing in a more withdrawn role behind both Fabio Quagliarella and Sampdoria teammate, Giampaolo Pazzini. Many were nervous with regards to how big a role Pazzini will undertake alongside the very Coach that seemed unmoved by his talents, sending him away to Sampdoria. However the Coach of la Nazionale insists that there are no disagreements between the two men and that he absolutely believes he did the right thing with Pazzini who “was too mollycoddled in Florence and would never have grown up”. Tactically, the Coach has no choice but to have the Sampdoria striker lead the attack because the formation he is likely to deploy requires a traditional target man to hold the ball up and a player who can get on the end of all the crosses he will undoubtedly receive. Considering Pazzini’s stellar year last season and his relationship with fellow Doria teammate Cassano, he seems like the perfect candidate to help resolve Italy’s goal scoring problems.
Defensively, it seems the only change Prandelli will make to the starting line-up that played against the Ivory Coast is introducing Mattia Cassani from the start. Cassani was certainly much more self assured in defence in comparison to Marco Motta and his technical skill and attacking brilliance provided the attack with an added dimension on the right. On the left, Cristian Molinaro is likely to reprise his role in defence and despite his good performances for Stuttgart, one cannot help but wonder if he is good enough for la Nazionale especially when Parma’s Luca Antonelli and Palermo’s Federico Balzaretti have been superb last season. The latter has not even been called up despite being more suited to Prandelli’s style of play and perhaps the best Italy has produced recently. His sublime work ethic coupled with his technical skill should make him a natural choice and yet he has been constantly overlooked by Marcello Lippi and now Prandelli. Molinaro is defensively capable and he is eager to prove himself on the field but he simply cannot juggle all the duties of a full-back and is prone to making glaring errors made evident during his time in Turin. Against Ivory Coast he afforded little to the attack and with the Azzurri in desperate need of players, who in Prandelli’s words need to prove they are “generous and curious”, should other options not be considered?
David Santon could well have proved to be an interesting alternative on the left but due to Inter’s obsession with foreign imports, it may take years before we see him wearing the Azzurri shirt. Many have been quick to complain about the little help that Inter and Milan, arguable Serie A’s strongest two teams this year, have contributed to the Italian National team. Whilst Juventus have seemingly developed an obsession with purchasing every young Italian player available on the market, the Milanese duo are disregarding home talent and forcing Italy’s potential stars out, thus preventing them from gaining vital Champions League experience and the chance to learn alongside foreign imports. Prandelli will have to learn to depend on the smaller teams and the Juventus revolution to find talent but in the meantime, he should at least earn a marginal victory on Friday.