Italy extended their unbeaten run against Germany to 18 years, though there were positives and negatives in this 1-1 stalemate. These friendlies to prepare for the World Cup are meant to allow experimentation and some results are already in: Daniel Osvaldo and Mario Balotelli do not make a strike partnership. They are too similar and trip up over each other, so the Southampton man should now only be seen as an alternative to SuperMario. Besides which, one trigger-happy red card addict is quite enough for this line-up. Similarly, Thiago Motta feels like an unnecessary addition if Andrea Pirlo is already playing. These experiments stood out more for what didn't work than what did, but that's still an important learning curve.
I would like to see Cesare Prandelli test out the 4-2-3-1 system, making the most of the many attacking midfielders we have at our disposal. If the Azzurri want to speed up the tempo, then having a crowd of players ready to push up and support Balotelli would be the ideal solution. Naturally, we are all waiting for Giuseppe Rossi to forge that pairing with Balo, but so far injuries have kept them apart. It is an intriguing idea to see the Fiorentina Capocannoniere threading passes through for the brawny Milan striker.
It was reassuring to see Domenico Criscito in the side after a year away from the blue jersey, as with him the left-back slot would seem assured. Ignazio Abate needs to work on his crosses, but has pace and stamina, while I hope Mattia De Sciglio will eventually shake off his Milan-induced injury crisis. Daniele De Rossi was sorely missed on Friday night and, even with Roma’s remarkable start to the season, people underestimate just what a key figure he is in Italy’s midfield.
Team selections aside, I remain confused by Italy’s mentality. We all know they don’t give their best in friendlies, having beaten only San Marino in a non-competitive game over the past two years, but even then Germany should’ve provided the spark needed. Prandelli continues to speak of humility and warns we “cannot think of dominating Germany.” Why not? Ahead of the 2006 World Cup, Marcello Lippi’s men took the game to the Germans on their own turf in another friendly, a sign of what was to come in the semi-final.
They started with the perfect mentality, putting them under pressure and pouring forward from the get-go. Once Mats Hummels rose to meet a corner and give his side the lead, the Azzurri lost their way completely. All confidence seemed to be sapped and it took a good 20 minutes before Abate’s goal allowed them to lift their heads. This mental fragility is a big warning sign going into the World Cup, where a team simply cannot afford to sulk for such long periods. It’s almost as if the squad is absorbing the personality traits of Balotelli and Osvaldo. Hopefully the return of Rossi and De Rossi will see the side take on their battling characters instead.