Italy vs. Egypt – Let old rivalries commence

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Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon was quoted recently as saying the Azzurri would be the ‘ambassadors’ of Italian football in light of Serie A clubs’ under-achievement in European competition over the past two seasons. Whilst la Nazionale came away with the three points courtesy of a 3-1 win against the USA in their opening group game, it would be fair to say that at this particular ambassadorial party, Curly Wurlies were being served, not Ferrero Rocher’s – such was the laborious manner of their victory. Marcello Lippi’s men made hard work of an American team much changed from the side that held them to a 1-1 draw en route to their victorious march to a fourth World Cup triumph in 2006.

Whilst Italy will be relieved to come through unscathed against the USA, Egypt Coach Hassan Shehata will have been delighted with his own team’s courageous display in their opening match against Brazil in which they came from two goals down before succumbing to a cruel Kaka penalty in the dying moments. Constant undermining of his managerial abilities by the Egyptian media has done nothing to dampen the pride and passion which Shehata possesses and transmits to his players, which has culminated in back-to-back African Cup of Nations triumphs. Both he and his players know that they not only have the expectations of their countrymen on their shoulders, but the majority of north Africa.

Italy

Azzurri captain Fabio Cannavaro has shaken off his calf-strain which forced him to sit out Monday’s opening. His return to the starting XI means he will line up alongside Giorgio Chiellini at the heart of the defence. Nicola Legrottaglie – his understudy for both club and country – will be the unfortunate defender to make way. Coach Marcello Lippi is expected to revert back to the 4-4-2 system to provide more cover for his defence who at times looked shaky against the USA. His biggest conundrum, however, concerns his attack with Giuseppe Rossi underlying why he is one of the hottest young strikers in Europe with a brace against the Americans after making his bow as a second-half substitute. His performance will not have gone unnoticed, and Lippi will need to decide on whether to partner Luca Toni with the ineffective Alberto Gilardino and use Rossi as a super-sub, or use the latter from the start, which given his goals, is merited at the very least.

1 Buffon


19 Zambrotta – 5 Cannavaro – 4 Chiellini – 3 Grosso


16 Camoranesi – 8 Gattuso – 10 De Rossi – 21 Pirlo


9 Toni – 17 Rossi



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Egypt

Apart from substitute Ahmed Al Muhamadi’s suspension for his handball in the game against the Selecao, Shehata’s only other concern remains with striker Amr Zaki who has yet to show signs of shaking off his hamstring injury. His line-up should remain unchanged, however, it all depends on who showed signs of fatigue after Monday’s full-throttle opener.

1 El Hadary


7 Fathy – 6 Said – 20 Gomaa – 14 Moawad


4 Said


11 Shawky – 8 Abd Rabbou – 17 Hassan


22 Aboutrika – 9 Zidan


Egypt has restored some pride after their dismal performance in the recent 3-1 reverse to Algeria last week – their worst margin of defeat in over 30 years. While they will have taken heart with their comeback against the Brazilians, Shehata will look to address errors made in certain areas of the pitch – starting with the defence. Sloppy defending saw Kaka dance his way through for the game’s opening goal, while a constant lack of organisation when defending set-pieces allowed both Luis Fabiano and Juan to score with free headers. The Pharoah’s Coach will look to his defenders to combat the aerial prowess of Chiellini and Toni from set-pieces and crosses, while they will have to be alert to balls being threaded to the nimble Rossi in and around the penalty box, with the Villarreal forward adopting a shoot-on-sight policy.

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As for la Nazionale, Tactician Lippi opted for a 4-3-3 formation with Mauro Camoranesi in a more advanced role to support Vincenzo Iaquinta and Alberto Gilardino. This proved largely ineffective as all three attackers never really got into the game, while having one less midfielder exposed the Azzurri defence to the pace and movement of Jozy Altidore, Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey which yielded a penalty following Chiellini’s clumsy kick on Altidore. With a more balanced 4-4-2, Gattuso will look to dominate the area between the front of the defence and midfield and attempt to stop the driving runs of Pharoah’s midfielder Mohamed Shawky. Italy’s form of late has been patchy to say the least, however, this has been attributed to a constant change of team/squad selection and tactics, with Lippi attempting to find the perfect formula of balance, defensive steel and attacking prowess. With the domestic season now over, he has been able to gather his squad and drill into them exactly what he wants for this tournament and more importantly, for next year’s World Cup finals which they are on course to qualify for. He and his coaching staff are making the most of the time with his players which he will not be afforded over the course of the 2009/10 season, so he will expect a marked improvement in performance as his side continue to progress in this edition of the Confederations Cup.

All but four of Egypt’s squad ply their trade in Egypt, and will look to showcase their talents on the world stage and show their loyal fans by following up their brave resistance to the might of Brazil with an even better performance against the current world champions. Performances like these will help to erase their World Cup campaign to date and galvanise the squad in their attempt to return back to South Africa next year.

In times before, the Roman Empire fought to dominate Ptolemaic Egypt. Now on one side, the current gladiators of Italy will look to dominate the game on Thursday to secure their passage to the semi-finals, while on the other, the Pharoah’s pride will attempt to overcome adversity and look towards a glorious future. A mighty Mediterranean battle awaits.

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