Pressure off Italy as early qualification offers opportunity to experiment

There is at first glance something of an anti-climax to the opening fixture of the final round of qualifiers for next summer’s Euro 2012 get underway on Friday night. The most daunting test the group offered looked certain to be the trip to the Belgrade to face a strong Serbian side for Italy. Having qualified for the previous World Cup, possessing a number of players from a host of Europe’s top clubs and one of the most hostile atmospheres in international football gli azzurri will certainly be delighted to have secured their qualification prior to this difficult encounter.
The last time these two sides faced each other was in a heated encounter in Genoa where sadly it was the off-field disturbances that caught the eye more than the quality displayed by the two strongest sides in Group G. The match was ultimately abandoned for crowd disturbances which left an unsavoury taste left for those who had anticipated the encounter. Ultimately the losers were the Serbians themselves who were punished with a 3-0 defeat that derailed any attempt they could muster to oust Italy from the group’s top spot.
Despite this early set back however it is in the Serbs hands to qualify for the play off’s as one victory in their final two games can secure second place. After Italy they face rivals for this crucial spot in the shape of Slovenia, away in Maribor. With the two nations holding a traditionally somewhat fractious relationship – coupled with the play off prize at stake – it will appear that the attention of the Serbians would be wise to look at taking advantage of the Italians who will certainly now treat this game as a different proposition with their own qualification secured.
Cesare Prandelli’s squad has been nullified in attacking threat with withdrawals of Giampaolo Pazzini and Mario Balotelli. However there still remains a large degree of quality as top scorer for la nazionale in this qualification campaign Antonio Cassano is joined by Giuseppe Rossi, the surprise late call up from Roma – Osvaldo – and the man of the moment in Serie A currently, Sebastian Giovinco.
It remains to be seen how Prandelli will approach the fixture in respect to the team he puts out on the pitch, but the exciting, if something controversial call up in some quarters, of Osvaldo suggests the coach from Lombardy is looking to give some experience to the younger prospects at his disposal. A small detraction of the former Viola coach’s step up to the highest post in the peninsular has been a failure to display a potent attacking threat in the recent fixtures against Faroe Islands and Slovenia. It is this quality that will be required if Italy are to add to their single continental triumph in Poland and Ukraine.
This is where Sebastian Giovinco the eye-catching Parma forward could prove particularly important and why many are anticipating his participation in this round of qualifiers. He has exploded with dynamism and goals so far this season placing himself as the early frontrunner in the race for Capocanonieri. While it would be churlish to suggest he isn’t a contender for the crown, most would safely predict it will fall from his grasp given the side he represents. However the young forward on his current form will certainly be a worthy addition to the squad set for Central and Eastern Europe in the upcoming summer. His ability to change a tricky game could prove to be vital if, as in the previous World Cup in South Africa there proves to problems in breaking down difficult opposition as he, on current showing at least, possesses a potential to alter the course of a game despite players around him not performing to their capabilities.
There will be of course many opportunities for Prandelli to explore his options prior to the championships and a domestic season to complete that will give a clearer indication of the capabilities of his young players yet the fixture against Serbia and then Northern Ireland is an opportunity to offer more experience of the level that will be required at a major tournament. The stakes for the Italians in Belgrade will certainly not be as high as their hosts but nevertheless it still offers a potentially intriguing view of one of the contenders to wrestle the European crown from Spain ensuring that what may appear to be an anti-climax may yet prove to be something of a catalyst for the fortunes of gli azzurri.

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