It is wonderful to see Italy in another European Championship Final against Spain, the Under-21 sides mirroring the Euro 2012 tournament, though hopefully without the same end result. Marco Verratti, Alessandro Florenzi and Manolo Gabbiadini have great quality, while Lorenzo Insigne proved once again he deserved more starting spots for Napoli. This evening Cesare Prandelli’s Azzurri begin the Confederations Cup campaign with Mexico and hope to continue where the Euros left off, at least up to the semi-final. However, I have some concerns.
There is this tendency in Italy with both club and country to regress when facing a tough challenge. Attacking tactics, flair players and imposing performances seem to disappear once they progress past a certain stage, as if they were too risky in the knock-outs. The Azzurrini were fantastic against England and deserved far more than a 1-0 victory, while they brushed Israel aside 4-0 and fielded a second-string side in the draw with Norway. Devis Mangia is a devotee of Arrigo Sacchi, so it was rather sad to hear him say he “couldn’t care less” about being called a catenaccio tactician after the semi-final. Leaving Manolo Gabbiadini on the bench felt like a step backwards, one made out of fear, and it filtered through the whole performance. They allowed Holland possession from the start and only showed what they could do in short bursts, usually inspired by Insigne.
If Italy play like this against Spain, they are likely to get torn apart. It may well happen anyway, though Norway could’ve caused some serious problems in the other semi-final with some better finishing, so La Roja are not quite so unbeatable as they may seem. When taking on such strong opposition in a game with everything at stake, why not go for it with the same attacking verve shown in the earlier rounds? If the team goes down, at least do it in a blaze of glory that silences the old clichés about defensive Italians. We know that’s the image the Dutch and Spanish will be lambasting in today’s papers.
The Confederations Cup is a practice session for the World Cup and a media affair, nothing more. The trophy is worth next to nothing and some teams even see it as an inconvenience. In Italy’s case, it is impossible to do worse than in 2009, when Marcello Lippi’s men failed to progress from a group with Brazil, the United States and Egypt. So Prandelli may as well embrace the situation and go out there to improve Italy’s global reputation with style. That was the remit he grasped when starting this Azzurri adventure and I hope he will continue to show Italian football is anything but dull and defensive.