Miserable weather, miserable performance and a miserable result – yet there are reasons for Azzurri fans to take comfort from Tuesday’s defeat against the Ivory Coast.
The hastily arranged friendly (no hot dogs, no match programmes and locked disabled toilets) showed a lack of preparation at Upton Park. The eleven thousand strong crowd was however in good voice. Mostly dressed in blue and singing the ‘po po po-po-po po po’ anthem that rang out during the 2006 World Cup victory.
Cesare Prandlelli’s team included the names the baying public have long been clamouring for. Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli, thrust immediately into the bright lights of East London. The resulting display was not what was hoped for but a brief dissection of the team will show that under a cracked and blistered exterior there might just be something fresh about to burst through.
The pairing of Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci will be worth persevering with. The Juventus colleagues will have a season to play together and the potential for a safe and synchronised partnership is promising. At left back Christian Molinaro was horrendously under used in the attacking phase. He is an experienced player and it was a shame that the cross for the African goal came from his side of the pitch. On the right, Marco Motta struggled and Mattia Cassani did enough to nudge ahead of the Juve right back when he replaced him in the second half. Motta looked ill at ease defensively and his scuffed shot that hit the post should not mask his inadequacies.
Captain Daniele De Rossi looked rusty but will still be the heartbeat of Prandelli’s team. Alongside him was Angelo Palombo who showed plenty of effort and endeavour which is needed from a midfield spoiler. Claudio Marchisio and Riccardo Montolivo will be ideal backups especially if the latter can improve on his confidence now that his old boss is in charge.
In attack the prospect of the ‘ABC’ delivered in flashes. For the first time in a while Italy has a battering ram style forward that has mobility. Amauri, regardless of what you may read elsewhere was excellent. He won headers and made mazy patterns worthy of a three year olds colouring book. A good first touch and less clumsy than many forwards we have recently witnessed playing for La Nazionale.
Balotelli looks lazy, strolls about as if he couldn’t care less but with the ball at his feet you feel that something might happen. He is young, raw and unpolished but the boy needs opportunities. In four years time he will be one of the best, we must be patient. Antonio Cassano’s ability is unquestionable and as long as he keeps his head he will be a match winner.
Simone Pepe really struggled. Poor control, poor dribbling ability and poor communication with his team mates. His international career hangs by a thread. Giuseppe Rossi and Fabio Quagliarella both came on and gave the ‘Elephants’ problems. Rossi has skill and guile that just needs to be harnessed and Neapolitan Fabio carried on his momentum from the ill fated Slovakia match. Italy do have options in attack.
Salvatore Sirigu had little to do, other than pick the ball out of the net. Another good season with Palermo will be the litmus test, to see if he has the safe hands to back up Gianluigi Buffon.
Forget the scoreline, forget the weather and forget the lack of match programmes. There is a chink of light somewhere deep inside those blue shirts. It just needs some time and a patient Prandelli (and tifosi) to tease it out.