Cesare Prandelli will take the three points. After the Bulgaria draw a win was a necessity to kick-start the qualifying campaign and Italy got the desired result. Mattia Destro scored five minutes in and Federico Peluso netted right at the end for a 2-0 victory. In between the Azzurri laboured to victory. Prandelli will wonder whether they were dragged down by the level of opposition or by themselves.
In a month Italy travel to Armenia before the big group meeting with Denmark. After five changes from Friday’s side, the Malta contest at the Stadio Alberto Braglia in Modena represented a chance for those on the periphery to shine. Given the absentees in attack included Mario Balotelli, Antonio Cassano and the benched Sebastian Giovinco, eyes were firmly on the front line.
Destro was busy throughout. While Roma teammate Pablo Osvaldo struggled to make an impression and cause the Maltese defence too many headaches, the 21-year-old showed he can have an impact for the Azzurri. The Argentine-born striker never truly threatened, while his replacement Giampaolo Pazzini was more involved and vigorous in his 20 minute showing. It also begs the question whether starting two burly forwards like the Giallorossi pair in place of Giovinco was the right one, given Italy lacked incision. Yet it does show Prandelli has depth in attack.
Italy’s 4-3-1-2 system required the trequartista to take command of proceedings, with width provided by the advancing full-backs. However, neither Alessandro Diamanti, Peluso nor Mattia Cassani were decidedly impressive. Beside a vicious free-kick, Diamanti was not involved enough during his 45 minutes and Prandelli was unhappy with the Bologna player drifting wide on too many occasions.
Meanwhile, the full-backs struggled to offer the essential width. Cassani was the liveliest of the pair initially, with Peluso looking timid in his first start. After the interval Cassani was more withdrawn, while the Atalanta man strode forward with greater purpose.
He was helped by the 4-3-3 and the impact of substitute Lorenzo Insigne. The Napoli youngster was the most creative player on the pitch. Playing with the confidence of an international veteran he was not afraid to run at defenders, although at times was let down by the final ball. Nonetheless, Insigne can be happy with a thrilling debut performance. Should Prandelli persist with the trident attack, Insigne has shown he can play a part. The tactician was pleased with what the player offered. “Insigne did well when he came on and we spread the play with his introduction, getting more down the flanks.”
It raises the question of what system Prandelli will go with versus Armenia and Denmark. From the three utilised in these two matches, Italy produced their best football with the latter. Should Daniele De Rossi and Federico Balzaretti be fit the pair will reclaim their spots, while Domenico Criscito is another full-back to consider after his name was cleared in the Calcioscommesse investigation. Balotelli and Cassano will also be in contention, but other positions are up for grabs. The Malta contest showed Prandelli has options. The question is which combination of players will work best to launch Italy towards Brazil.