In the first of Boar Sport’s England World Cup previews, Lewis Williams takes an in depth look at Cesare Prandelli’s somewhat unpredictable Italian squad.
At the heart of the Azurri, dictating play from a deep midfield role, is Andrea Pirlo. The current Serie A footballer of the year (and the only Italian to have won the award more than once) will be remembered for his savvy performance against England in the last European Championship’s quarter-finals. Left to his own devices, Pirlo has the ability to unlock defences with his shrewd passing and vision.
Despite starting in 2 of Italy’s last 3 friendlies, Ciro Immobile is a newcomer onto the international scene. Nevertheless, the inexperienced frontman scored a hat-trick in Italy’s last warm-up match against Fluminense in a sensational individual display. A somewhat unknown quantity prior to 2013, Torino’s strapping striker has exploded into the fray following a highly impressive breakthrough season. Having seized the Serie A golden boot with 22 goals, outscoring the likes of Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez, Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka will have their work cut out to keep Immobile at bay.
Quite surprisingly, given the strength of their attacking options, goals have proven hard to come by recently for the Azurri. Italy were only able to score once against Luxembourg on the 4th June, and failed in creating any goals in their previous 2 friendlies against the Republic of Ireland and Spain. Although their final friendly against Fluminense yielded 5 goals, prior to the fixture it had been 14 matches since Italy were able to score more than twice in a single game. Italy certainly have the potential to create goals, boasting the likes of Mario Balotelli, Claudio Marchisio, and the on-form Antonio Candreva. However, unless they can buck the trend and continue converting their attacking potentiality into goals, Italy may struggle to proceed out of the group stages.
Having played and managed in Italy for his entire career, Cesare Prandelli currently pulls the strings of the Italian national football team. A highly successful player, winning the league title 3 times with Juventus, Prandelli was also able to guide Italy to the European Championship final in 2012. Unfortunately for the Italians, the final resulted in a humiliating 4-0 defeat at the hands of Spain. Prandelli did however guide Italy to a penalty shoot-out victory over England in the quarter finals of the 2012 European Championship, but he will be hoping for a more emphatic victory this time round over Roy Hodgson’s outfit.
Contrary to most preconceptions, the strictly defensive Italian philosophy has been left in the past. In decades gone by, Italy have prided themselves on a tight defensive unit, with the attack forming a mere afterthought. In spite of this, the progressive Prandelli favours a much more fluid, attack-orientated system. Italy can be expected to line up in their customary 4-3-1-2 formation, in which the midfielders are granted significant freedom of position. With the Italians boasting a surplus of players able to penetrate defences, England will need to make sure they are watertight at the back to keep themselves in the game.
Although the Italian squad appears menacing on paper, their results have been far from convincing. Prior to the recent goal-fest at Fluminense, Italy had failed to win in 7 of their last matches. Whilst the formidable Germany and Spain formed 2 of these winless games, failing to defeat Armenia and Luxemburg will not rest so well on the Italian conscience. Moreover, Italy’s performances in recent major tournaments have been every bit as patchy. Winning the World Cup in 2006 was a particular high point for the Italians, as was reaching the final in the last European Championship. On the other hand, Italy failed to impress at the 2010 World Cup, finishing bottom of a group including Paraguay, Slovakia and New Zealand.
The last time England and Italy met, in August 2012, England secured a promising 2-1 victory. Daniele De Rossi gave the Italians an early lead, but goals from Phil Jagielka and Jermaine Defoe ensured a successful English comeback. However, under 2 months previous to this encounter, Italy sent England tumbling out of the European Championships following an enthralling penalty shoot-out. Bragging rights between the 2 nations have been similarly closely contested throughout history. Of the 24 matches played together, England have come out on top 8 times, Italy 9 times, while 7 matches have resulted in a tie.
Watch out for Daniele De Rossi’s tattoo on his right calf. The tough-tackling midfielder clearly feels he has a duty to warn his opponents of his ferocity – with an intimidating tattoo of a slide tackling stick man encapsulated by a yellow triangle.
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