It may have been a friendly, but there was an importance to last night’s match at Upton Park. Cesare Prandelli’s first match in charge of the national team is supposedly the beginning of a new era for the Azzurri. On the evidence of their loss to the Ivory Coast, it will take more than the inclusion of a couple of rebellious characters to turn around Italy’s fortunes.
Salvatore Sirigu was handed a start in goal, and was one of a handful of youngsters eager to impress the new boss, who was eager to lower the average age of the Italian squad. The Palermo goalkeeper had little chance with the winning goal, but was otherwise competent in the few saves he made.
Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci are a centre-back pairing who can only improve with experience. Fabio Cannavaro’s retirement means Chiellini is now the most senior centre-back, and he displayed his leadership qualities in his performance last night. Considering the relative inexperience of the goalkeeper behind him and his partner at centre-back, Chiellini defended bravely and constantly organised the new-look Azzurri defence. He lacks the elegance of a Cannavaro or an Alessandro Nesta, but his aggression in the tackle kept the Ivorians at bay for the most part. Bonucci was promising, too. He was caught out of position a couple of times and was booked after finding himself the wrong side of an attacker, but Juventus’ new signing looks capable of growing into his role as a starter for Italy.
Marco Motta and Cristian Molinaro, at full-back, are yet to cement their place in Prandelli’s thoughts on last night’s evidence. They were both shaky in defence and lacked the ability to support in attack. Despite Motta’s effort which hit the post, he doesn’t yet look good enough to dislodge Gianluca Zambrotta.
Daniele De Rossi, captain for the night as the most experienced player in the team, started most of Italy’s attacks with an impressive passing range from the middle of the park. Angelo Palombo was the destroyer alongside him, but the Sampdoria man was outrun and outclassed by Yaya Toure and company.
Simone Pepe is industrious on the right wing, and although his wide play offers a different dimension, his final ball is questionable. Pepe was unable to feed Italy debutant Amauri with a single cross of any noticeable quality. Antonio Cassano was similarly anonymous. He enjoyed the adulation of the Italian crowd who cheered his every touch in his favoured trequartista position, but the Ivorians were able to keep him quiet. Cassano tested the goalkeeper once, but was largely unable to have the impact that Prandelli would have hoped.
On the left, Mario Balotelli was given his debut. All eyes on him were on the controversial teenager, not least for the rumours linking him with a move to Manchester City. He endeavoured to be Italy’s creative source, but for all his raw talent he is still naïve on certain occasions. More importantly, he was accepted by the vast majority of Italian fans, who chanted “Balotelli is one of us,” and clapped him off the pitch upon his substitution. His inclusion is an important step for Prandelli to make his mark on the team.
Amauri’s debut up-front went unnoticed due to Balotelli’s presence. The straniero wasn’t considered by Marcello Lippi, but Prandelli has opened the door to naturalised Italians. He was starved of service on his first international appearance, although he won some important flick-ons and held the ball up intelligently.
Prandelli only made a handful of substitutions, none of which had any impact on the final score. His debut as Italy manager didn’t produce the desired result, or indeed the desired performance, but there is still much optimism surrounding his appointment. If the ex-Fiorentina boss keeps faith in the same set of players, the future may not be as bleak as the World Cup in South Africa suggested.