Italy Camp Focus – Play it again, Marcello

Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee with a shower of rain – in our case, the cold shower of a disastrous Confederations Cup. It is time to go back to formula, and the upcoming friendly against Switzerland provides a chance to witness what directions the clogs in Marcello Lippi’s mind have been turning towards.

The first reaction to the call-ups must be mixed. The inclusion of youngsters Domenico Criscito, Claudio Marchisio and Federico Marchetti are all excellent. Criscito injects new blood into a defence in dire need of renovation and midfielder Marchisio is a very valid option who can work in a variety of positions. Marchetti is unlikely to become the Azzurri starter for a very long time, but looking beyond the 2010 World Cup, these three names all have the potential to leave a print with the Italian shirt. Let us hope they get some experience, starting from now.

Cassanosiena

The absences of Romanisti Marco Motta and Daniele De Rossi will raise some eyebrows, but we may explain them by looking at the dense international engagements of their club. Instead, the real problem remains the offensive line. Four of the five players selected play essentially in the same role (Alberto Gilardino is the only one who is not a seconda punta). The lack of tactical diversity was one of the factors which doomed Roberto Donadoni in 2008, so it is a little surprising to see Lippi walking on the same path. As importantly, why on earth is Antonio Di Natale back on that list? The man is out of form, out of breath and out of his depth at the international level. What he may add to the team other than a little bit of candid volunteerism is anyone’s guess. Needless to say, it is also a slap in the face of the other Antonio, the one who is a real phenomenon – Fantantonio Cassano, who scored twice in his last game against Siena and who is already in impressive form.

While we wait for the pre- and post-match interviews, we may take a look at Lippi’s most recent declarations. They lend some space for thought. “If there is one chance in a billion of winning the World Cup again,” he uttered, starting on a note of optimism, “then we shall seize it by keeping the veterans while adding a few choice newcomers. A complete overhaul of the squad is possible, but it would mean not winning for a space of ten years.” Cue the moaning of the media and the public.

We do not wish to add our voice to the dithyrambic chorus of popular opinion because Lippi’s statement is in fact entirely correct. No-one could hope to win anything by going into a tournament with six starters who have never played a World Cup in their lives. Our problem is in the execution of that same statement. The names of the newcomers are almost entirely restricted to the offence, and even then they are simply underwhelming in terms of quality – Simone Pepe gets to start ahead of Giuseppe Rossi, Fabio Quagliarella closes spaces for Giampaolo Pazzini (or, even, for Sebastian Giovinco) and Di Natale is called up over Cassano. The rest of the team comes straight from 2006 except for Giorgio Chiellini. “If veterans cannot keep their form,” Lippi continued, “then they shall no longer be called up.” This probably explains the long over-due exclusion of Luca Toni from the list – a new exit which is more welcome than any of the new entries – but by going back to an out-of-form Di Natale, the Coach proves his statement inconsistent with his actions. Also, why does this not apply to the midfield? How can Andrea Pirlo and Mauro Camoranesi still be unquestioned starters when their form has been going up and down like the ridges of the Himalaya? Admittedly Gennaro Gattuso is not on the list, but this may be due to the game against Switzerland being no more than a friendly. Let us see where Ringhio stands when the qualification games come around, and then we’ll discuss renovation.

This brings us to our conclusive meditation – that this is, after all, no more than an August friendly. All the players will be out of form and the match will allow for a limited amount of interesting observations. For this reason our reaction to the call-ups, for the good or for the bad, must be moderate in tone. For now, Lippi has changed little – judging by the characteristics of the players, he even intends to retain the warped 4-3-3 formation, which has gone three years now without bearing fruit. So be it. It is only a friendly, and it will be enough for the Viareggio Coach to offer some experience to the youngsters for his job to be called done. The matches in September against Georgia and Bulgaria, when the result truly counts for something and the collective form is on the up, will leave his flank exposed to much fiercer criticism. If it is legitimate, we’ll be in the front line.

Italy Squad

Keepers : Buffon (Juventus), Marchetti (Cagliari)

Defenders: Bocchetti (Genoa), Cannavaro (Juventus), Chiellini (Juventus), Criscito (Genoa), Grosso (Olympique Lyon), Santon (Inter), Zambrotta (Milan)

Midfielders: Camoranesi (Juventus), Pepe (Udinese), D’Agostino (Udinese), Marchisio (Juventus), Palombo (Sampdoria), Pirlo (Milan)

Forwards: Di Natale (Udinese), Gilardino (Fiorentina), Iaquinta (Juventus), Quagliarella (Napoli), Rossi (Villarreal)

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