Well, that was poor. Not a single genuine shot on target, while the Czech Republic were left cursing the woodwork, Gigi Buffon’s cat-like reflexes and the fact Tomas Rosicky can’t aim. Mario Balotelli got himself sent off and took it out on the perspex wall of the Italy dugout, suggesting a career in boxing would suit him if the football falls apart. In other words, a typical Italy performance in June.
The Azzurri never raise their game at this stage of the season, we all know it, so to grab a point in the circumstances was excellent news. The Czechs were sharper, smarter and clearly more up for the match from start to finish, so we have to thank Buffon for this draw. Nobody else in the team made the slightest impact.
What have we learned from this World Cup qualifier? Giorgio Chiellini is a wonderful centre-back, but no longer a great left-back. Those days are behind him and we should shelve Leonardo Bonucci, perhaps giving the versatile Mattia De Sciglio a go down the left. Riccardo Montolivo has tried to explain in every conceivable way that he doesn’t like playing as a trequartista, but Cesare Prandelli persists in using him behind the strikers. Stephan El Shaarawy is tired, low on confidence and still hasn’t worked out how to play alongside Balotelli effectively.
I expect many blogs and articles on why the red card proves Balotelli is a loose cannon who cannot be trusted representing the Azzurri jersey. All hyperbole fuelled by his reputation. This was his first dismissal in over a year in all competition and watching the game was extremely harsh. The yellow card for a tackle from behind was perfectly acceptable, but the second just three minutes later for a mid-air clash with Gebre Selassie was unnecessary. His performance up to that point had been poor, but no worse than any of his teammates on the night. His only real error was failing to pass to an unmarked Montolivo, trying instead to turn between two defenders and get a shot away.
We must stop expecting Balotelli to turn on the style and bag a brace in every single game. He is already vastly more consistent than he was and let’s not forget both he and El Shaarawy are young enough to be in the European Under-21 Championships right now. Here’s hoping the dismissal and bruise on his fist from punching the wall will help Mario learn to control his frustration a little better, while Italy can relish the fact they still earned a point despite a dismal performance. No harm done, onwards and upwards.