Wednesday October 16 2013
A seed of doubt…

Italy’s final World Cup qualifier ended in a 2-2 draw against Armenia, costing the Azzurri a top seeding at the World Cup. Luca Cetta assesses the best and the worst from the Naples contest.

Another Italy game, another draw and another comeback required. Anybody would be forgiven for thinking the visit to Naples was the latest episode of the Mario Balotelli Show given the coverage he received leading up to the contest. From camera crews to the Camorra and tweets along the way, Balo was again the centre of attention. Amid it all was the World Cup qualifier with Armenia.

Not that the Azzurri seemed to get the memo early. Cesare Prandelli called the opening 20 minutes embarrassing. Yura Movsisyan pounced on a sixth minute error from Alberto Aquilani to open the scoring. An already shaky makeshift defence took little time to crack. The boys in blue couldn’t string three passes together.

In typical Italian fashion having already sealed qualification meant taking the foot off the pedal, but there was still something to play for. Aside from protecting an unbeaten run in World Cup and European Championships qualifying stretching back to September 2006, there was the small matter of World Cup seedings.

A win either against Denmark or Armenia would seal a top eight seeding and less potential for a Group of Death scenario. However, in two matches the Catenaccio gods would have been appalled with, Italy conceded four avoidable goals.

At the Stadio San Paolo, Aquilani’s mistake was compounded by Federico Marchetti in the second half. He fumbled the ball behind for a corner, then, echoing Walter Zenga at the same end 23 years earlier, came for a cross but was not close. Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s header struck the underside of the bar and crossed the line. Italy left their fate in other hands. Switzerland’s win aided their top eight push. Colombia and Uruguay’s final qualifiers would decide the rankings.

If the performance was disjointed, a look at the starting XI reveals why. It was a side filled with reserves. Prandelli was not too worried about the seeding situation, rather he concentrated on giving these players one last test in a competitive environment pre-Brazil. A number of regulars were absent, while the match showed the defensive stocks are low on depth. Nonetheless, the tactician was pleased with the spirit shown in erasing two deficits.

The match also glimpsed Italy’s future. Two wingers continued to stake their claim for a plane ticket across the Atlantic with fine performances. Lorenzo Insigne sparkled on home soil. After Fabio Cannavaro, Ciro Ferrara and Antonio Juliano, he was the fourth Neapolitan to represent his country at the fabled venue and if not for the post, would have been the first to score. Alessandro Florenzi netted a first Azzurri goal from Insigne’s cross and is really taking to his new position wide on the right, giving Prandelli another option.

Balotelli put aside the controversy and his weekend illness to make a substitute appearance. He rescued Italy with the second goal, hooking Andrea Pirlo’s pass into the far corner. Super Mario was in one of those moods and very nearly won it late on. Then there’s Giuseppe Rossi, who began the latest chapter to his Azzurri adventure following a two year absence. Rossi’s last game was on 7 October 2011, in Serbia. “It was a huge emotion to wear the Nazionale jersey again, be on the field with the lads and moving the ball around,” he said.

These players are the future, but the future is now, on the road to Brazil. The quartet will surely – barring injury – be heading to Brazil. Prandelli has already conceded he couldn’t conceive of a World Cup squad lacking Balotelli.

So what to take from the match? For long stretches it looked the classic nothing-on-the-line Italy match. The Azzurri lacked urgency and fluency. Yes, they twice responded to falling behind, but with the added carrot of top seeding up for grabs they failed to achieve their goal. Colombia and Uruguay’s wins ensure it’s the first time since 1978 that Italy are not top seeds. On the flipside, players such as Insigne and Florenzi highlighted what there is to look forward to in the upcoming months.

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Have your say...
In last two games Italy's starting line-ups were poor. Prandelli didn't use all his players. It looked like he didn't even care about of results. But Italy always plays like this then he doesn't need the points.
First minutes Italy played horribly yesterday. So many errors especially in defending.
With Mario Balotelli Italy's game changed a lot. During 36 minutes Mario did more then all team did during all game. If only all players played like Mario.
on the 16th October, 2013 at 12:26pm
Lessons learned over the last two games...

Buffon is still by far our best keeper

Astori, De Silvestri, Ranocchia, Pasqual and Aquilani are utter toilet and should not be considered again.

We need to play with a defensive midfielder at all times in any formation.

4-3-3 should only be used if we're losing a match and chasing the game - we're too exposed defensively using it even though going forward it looks ok.

Insigne, Balotelli & Florenzi are a must

Only positive - the spirit of the team
on the 16th October, 2013 at 12:19pm
the criticism of Prandelli by some of you is ridiculous.Italy had never qualified so soon for a Euros or a World Cup before Prandelli's last two qualification campaigns. Italy reached the Final of Euro 2012 too! Results wise in competitive matches you can't fault him. Secondly, Italy at least try to play football under him. Don't forget the tripe we played under Sacchi, Donadoni and Lippi mark II. Thirdly, Italy concede because the defenders are tripe.
on the 16th October, 2013 at 11:51am
What a shame Italy couldn't pull off a win last night and thus miss out on the top seedings (which meant that yesterday's game wasn't a friendly). Still think they need Quagliarella and Totti- typical Italy leaving their best strikers at home. Didn't think much of Insigne either...

Still, Italy tend to do better when there are very few expectations on them.

By the way, whatever has happened to Fabrizio Miccoli? I'm amazed he's never played for Italy!
on the 16th October, 2013 at 11:22am
I just realised I forget Verratti! Drop Aquilani for Verratti. Its looking like a good squad!
on the 16th October, 2013 at 11:20am
Typical Auzurri performance when they have little to play for. Both wingers certainly stated a claim for their seats on the plane as did Super Mario & Rossi when they came on. Aquilani would not be missed and does not give anything extra to the squad and without playing it shows that Buffon is still the correct Number 1, we just need to find a Toldo (Remember 2000) from somewhere as cover. I hope CP uses up & coming friendlies not only to find the correct squad but also look at a few youngsters.
on the 16th October, 2013 at 11:12am
Remember we were in a supposed group of death in 2006... Anyways my world cup squad today Buffon Sirigu, and Abiatti, Chiellini, Bonucci, Cannavaro, De Sciglio, Abate, Maggio, Balzaretti, Barzagli, Pirlo, De Rossi, Florenzi, Insigne, Motta, Verratti, Totti, Cassano, Osvaldo, Balotelli, Rossi,and El Sharaawy
on the 16th October, 2013 at 10:14am
the draw with Armenia raises too many questions?!
it should of been a victory & a comfortable one, but Azzurri played it hard on themselves! one thing puzzling me; I believe veratti, insigne & g. rossi could've had strong impact along with florenzi. Prandelli is clueless & does not know how to field the right players in the right time. so many times the coach has stressed concerns over defence, what improvements there is?!! nothing! 4 goals conceded in 2 games, which 3 could've been avoided!
on the 16th October, 2013 at 9:52am
A seed of doubt?! I'd call it more than that. I like Prandelli but I find him a bit tactically naive. Under him Italy have shipped an insane amount of goals, & these goals have been conceded against mid level teams. Not only do we concede many goals, we also allow our opponents numerous chances. We always look more secure with a 352 & I wish that Prandelli would use this as his base system. We need that 3rd CB as are options, aside from Chiellini, are not strong enough.
on the 16th October, 2013 at 9:14am
As a Milan fan I hope beyond hope that SES hits form this season and then he'll be competing with Insigne and Rossi for that place on the left hand side of the attack. For me the jury is still out on Osvaldo but he has done well over the last two qualifiers. We still do have Cassano, Gila, Cerci and Giovinico in reserve and if Pazzini averages 15/30 like he did last season he deserves a call up. I worry about a natural cover for De Rossi. The defensive cover also is not great.
on the 16th October, 2013 at 9:14am
I don't think there's much you can read into the last 2 qualifying games. Italy just can't do non-competitive matches. Credit to them for qualifying unbeaten with 2 games to spare. In terms of players it is looking really promising. For me if I had to call it today my squad would be: Buffon, Marchetti, Sirigu, Abate, Maggio, Bonucci, Barzagli, Astori, Chiellini, De Sciglio, Balzaretti, Pirlo, De Rossi, Monty, Marchisio, Aquilani, Candreva, Florenzi, Insigne, Rossi, Balo, Osvaldo and.....Totti!!!
on the 16th October, 2013 at 9:09am

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