Giorgio Chiellini passed to Antonio Cassano and with a little swivel he brushed off the attentions of both Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng. A floating cross on his weaker left evaded Mario Badstuber and met the head of Mario Balotelli, who buried it home. Italy were a goal up and on their way to the final of Euro 2012, thanks to Cassano’s little moment of magic.
From an Italian perspective, the less said about the Final against Spain the better. Cassano only played 45 minutes of the game at Kiev’s Olympic stadium, taken off at half-time for Antonio Di Natale. He has not appeared for the Azzurri since.
And the question has to be asked as to why.
Cassano believes Cesare Prandelli does have a reason, though he is not sure what it is and in any case he is not letting it get him down. “Prandelli hasn’t called me up for a year and a half. If for that amount of time he called everyone except me then he must have a reason in his mind, even though I don’t know or understand what it is. Never mind, I won’t cry about it,” he recently revealed.
But exactly what is Prandelli’s reasoning? Last season for a very poor Inter side, Cassano was one of the few shining lights. He was the club’s leading provider of assists while only Diego Milito and Rodrigo Palacio scored more. He may have left the Nerazzurri in rather acrimonious circumstances, just like he did with Milan a year earlier, but at Parma the diminutive forward has continued to produce the goods on the field. With his four goals and three assists thus far this season, he has created or scored more goals than everyone in Serie A aside from Giuseppe Rossi, Francesco Totti and Alessio Cerci.
What is more, unlike he used to do in his earlier days, Cassano is committed to his football. The circus sideshow that once earned him the name FantAntonio has gone. He is more mature and professional now. Parma Coach Roberto Donadoni has certainly noticed it. “Cassano is working well since pre-season, has lost at least 7-7.5kg and is once again wanting to prove to all the champion he is.” Parma President Tommaso Ghirardi has given him similar praise. “People told me I was mad when I signed Cassano, but he has been professional both on the field and off it.”
An Azzurri regular under Prandelli until Euro 2012, it is curious as to why he has just simply been discarded. It is not like any new talents have emerged to take his place, definitely not one of Cassano’s ilk. And given his rare talent, it makes it all the more harder to understand.
As a young player, Cassano was very much heralded as Italy’s new fantasista: the type of player whose creative genius could decide matches with either a wonderful goal or by creating one for his teammates, like he did against Germany a year and a half ago.
Though he has not achieved half of what he could have were it not for his lack of discipline, Cassano remains a player Italy could really do with come Brazil. One who in an instant can change the course of a match. And when it comes to big tournaments, as the likes of Roberto Baggio, Andrea Pirlo and Cassano himself have shown down the years, this is sometimes all it takes.
Read more from Frank Tigani at The Divine Ponytail