If you thought Italy had a point to prove after their hard-fought win over the USA in their opening group game, you would be wrong. The Azzurri went into the match with Egypt knowing a draw would be enough to see them through to the semi-finals, and they seemingly played for one. Marcello Lippi surprisingly retained the 4-3-3 formation. However, the Tactician did ring the changes with Fabio Quagliarella and Giuseppe Rossi coming in to add more pace upfront at the expense of Mauro Camoranesi and Alberto Gilardino.
Buoyed by their courageous opening display against Brazil, Egypt taught la Nazionale a lesson of their own in catenaccio defending. They also dominated the midfield with Italian trio Andrea Pirlo, Daniele De Rossi and Gennaro Gattuso all at sea with a succession of misplaced passes and constant lapses in concentration allowing the dangerous Mohamed Aboutrika to burst forward in support of the Egyptian attack at every opportunity. The World champions now face Brazil in the last group game with their fate not solely in their own hands. As has become the norm, the Italians have started a tournament slowly, and while they generally improve as they progress through the rounds, they are very much in danger of an early elimination this time around. They now face the real prospect of limping out of the Confederations Cup, and given their lack of style and passion, football fans and purists alike wouldn’t be sorry to see the back of them.
The raucous crowds at each of the Confederations Cup venues haven’t been the only ones making noises, as Brazil continued to signal their intent to win the tournament for a second time. A comfortable 3-0 win over an average United States outfit underlined why they adorned the tag of pre-tournament favourites alongside current European champions Spain, and also why they currently top the South American World Cup qualifying standings. Selecao Coach Dunga, remains supremely confident in his quest to add another title to his country’s Copa América win of 2007 – a very distinct possibility given the form of the squad he has at his disposal.
The only guarantee of Tactician Lippi’s starting XI is that the goalkeeper and back four should remain unchanged. However, what is not guaranteed is the formation he will adopt for this crucial game. All signs point to Lippi standing by his three-man midfield with two attackers supporting a lone central striker – most likely, Luca Toni.
19 Zambrotta – Cannavaro – 4 Chiellini – 3 Grosso
10 De Rossi – 8 Gattuso – 21 Pirlo
15 Iaquinta – 9 Toni – 23 Quagliarella
Central defender Juan missed the win against the United States and may miss out again against the Azzurri. Miranda will again deputise in the Roma defender’s absence. Regular full-backs Daniel Alves and Kleber should return to stem the attacking thrusts of Italian counterparts Gianluca Zambrotta and Fabio Grosso, with Manchester City midfielder Elano likely to assume his wide-role on the right.
1 Julio César
13 Dani Alves – 3 Lucio – 15 Miranda – 6 Kleber
7 Elano – 8 Gilberto Silva – 5 Felipe Melo
9 Luis Fabiano – 11 Robinho
Under previous regimes, a select number of clubs provided a large proportion of players to the Brazil squad, which inadvertently caused disharmony and resentment within the ranks. Former Viola stalwart Dunga has dispensed with this ideal by searching for and testing players plying their trade all over the world, including at home in Brazil, and this trial-and-error policy has been rewarded with some outstanding performances from players largely unheard of in Europe. Whilst retaining the formation used in the current World Cup qualifiers and both Confederations Cup matches thus far, Dunga has identified the players he believes fit into his 4-3-1-2 system and has brought in like-for-like when the need has arisen, safe in the knowledge they will perform as effectively as his first-choice XI.
Italian Tactician Lippi should take note. He stubbornly refuses to sway from a 4-3-3 system that obviously does not suit the players he selects, which leads us onto the players in question. “We had so much bad luck tonight, and at crucial stages of the game,” declared Simone Pepe. The Udinese midfielder along with other squad members such as Andrea Dossena, Angelo Palombo and Alessandro Gamberini are not up to the same standard as the more established members of the squad, while Lippi continues to rely on some players who reached their zenith on that glorious night in Berlin in 2006. Mauro Camoranesi is rumoured to be on his way out at Juventus, and many argue that the same fate should be decreed at international level, with the same level of criticism applied to the ageing Milan duo of Pirlo and Gattuso. Regardless of which, special praise must be reserved for Riccardo Montolivo, Giuseppe Rossi and Vincenzo Iaquinta, all of whom have been stellar performers when called upon.
Previous games between these two great nations have gone down in footballing folklore for one reason or another – think Mexico ‘70, Spain ‘82, and USA ‘94. The last time these two sides met at the Emirates Stadium in February, the Selecao comfortably ended Lippi’s 31-game unbeaten run with goals from Robinho and Elano. After that game, the Azzurri coach said: “At this moment in time, Brazil are stronger than Italy. We will see where we are at in a year and a half.” We will indeed Signor Lippi.
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 0-1 Egypt – Homos 40
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