Thursday May 29 2014
Italy’s luck of the Irish

Italy’s World Cup preparations continue with a clash against the Republic of Ireland on Saturday. Luca Cetta remembers past encounters ahead of an important pre-tournament test.

Two weeks from their opening World Cup contest against England, Italy will their continue preparations against another nation from the British Isles. The friendly with Martin O’Neill’s Republic of Ireland represents the final opportunity to impress Coach Cesare Prandelli ahead of the squad deadline.

The match at Craven Cottage in London will be the nations’ 13th, with the first dating back in 1926. It’s a ledger that Italy largely dominates - they’ve won eight times to Ireland’s two, with a pair of draws. At the World Cup, it’s a win apiece.

Italy ended the Irish dream at Italia ’90. Salvatore Schillaci continued his incredible tournament by netting his fourth goal, the only one of the encounter. But Jack Charlton’s side exited their first World Cup with heads held high.

Four years later, Ireland claimed a first win over Italy and dealt the Azzurri a severe World Cup blow in the process. To date, the match at New Jersey’s Giants Stadium represents the last time Italy have lost the opener at a World Cup. To that point, they had last suffered that predicament 40 years earlier.

The Italian media assumed Giants Stadium would be awash with Italo-Americans. Instead, they were hopelessly outnumbered by the Irish support. About the same scenario Ireland found themselves in four years earlier in Rome.

“Italy are one of the biggest nations in the world,” Charlton said before USA ’94 started, “and have tremendously gifted, talented players that are recognised throughout the world and are expected to win a World Cup. Ireland are not expected to win a World Cup.”

Arrigo Sacchi’s side made an awful start. In the 11th minute Alessandro Costacurta and Franco Baresi couldn’t clear and Ray Houghton clipped a long range effort over the head of Gianluca Pagliuca. It was to be the only goal of the game.

Not for the want of trying. Italy pressed but could not pass the Irish wall, led superbly by Paul McGrath. He had to pass a fitness test to be able to play, but did an admirable job shackling Roberto Baggio. Sacchi, ever the tinkerer, introduced Daniele Massaro to partner Baggio, with Giuseppe Signori moving out wide. The Lazio man forced a good save from Packie Bonner, while with 18 minutes remaining John Sheridan rattled Pagliuca’s crossbar.

The blame back home was placed on the Coach, whilst Pagliuca also didn’t escape the furore. And the Observer stated that: “The market in rotten tomatoes is expected to move substantially unless they recover in time for Thursday’s encounter with the Norwegians.” Luckily for Sacchi and his squad, things did improve.

Since that breakthrough Irish win, results have been mixed. Two friendlies have been split, while the pair of 2010 World Cup qualifiers ended in stalemate. In the most recent meeting, Italy assured their spot in the last eight at Euro 2012 with a 2-0 win, adding to a miserable tournament for the Republic.

But it’s that sweltering afternoon at Giants Stadium which lingers. The Azzurri were caught off-guard. They had been sluggish pre-tournament – including a loss to Serie C2 club Pontedera – in typical Italian fashion. It’s something Prandelli will hope to avoid this time around.

England Coach Roy Hodgson – the Switzerland boss back in 1994 – will be present on Saturday, seeking to catch a glimpse of the Nazionale before Manaus. He acknowledges the match won’t reveal the full picture, but an insight into Prandelli’s thinking. A fortnight later Hodgson will be aiming to equal his countryman’s accomplishment in New Jersey.

Given its place on the schedule, Saturday is an important test. It’s the chance to put Coverciano training into effect. And for fringe players such as Giuseppe Rossi, Mattia Destro and Marco Verratti to show the CT they belong.

Prandelli has offered all potential squad members hope: “I have not decided anything yet. I still have to wait and see how the players react to the workload we’re putting them under. And then, only after Saturday’s match against [Republic of] Ireland will I give you my 23.” The final squads must be submitted to FIFA by Monday.

The Irish test will go some way to revealing Prandelli’s plans and will illustrate who is showing the greatest desire to go to Brazil, where the Azzurri hope to be protagonists. Prandelli will be wishing it will be a World Cup without any nasty surprises like the one suffered 20 years ago.

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Have your say...
Come on fellow bloggers I do think your comments against CP is a little too premature considering this is his 2nd tournament and the last one he got us into the final! Hold your views until the WC and should Italy fail at the first hurdle I will be a critic too. Until then get behind the team. No one predicted the 2006 squad could make it! Fly the flag Madonna Mia! My only regret was that Giuseppe Rossi was just not ready unfortunately. You could see that in the Ireland Game.
Forza Azzurri!
on the 2nd June, 2014 at 4:48pm
Ok, stop the panic. Prandelli is a good coach - 2nd at the euros, which we could have won with a bit of luck, and 3rd at the confederations. That's pretty good going for a rubbish manager. We have a decent team, Verratti will come through to be our little star and we will get to the semis, then who knows. Italy are Italy, and no-one will want to play us. If you don't believe in the azzurri to do well, support England! or anyone else. Forza azzurri. (5 little stars await!!!)Have faith.
on the 2nd June, 2014 at 4:25pm
Atobelli - There is a very good reason why Prandelli doesn't follow England, Holland...etc. Look what happened to Montolivo. Can you image if he fielded a full-strength squad and Pirlo/Balotelli/Buffon etc got injured? If England and the rest want to play like that in meaningless friendlies, so be it.

Forza Azzuri
on the 2nd June, 2014 at 1:35pm
My thoughts with G.Rossi. For 2nd time he is not going to the WC! As charismatic as he is; G.Rossi will not surprise me to be the man of the tournament in 2018, and I hope so for him. he is super sweet guy and luck is not with him!!
Forza Azzurri :) always ...
on the 2nd June, 2014 at 8:47am
Well, our insignificant little Village Coach, Mr. Prandelli, has made up his mind finally.

Rossi, according to the doctors, is nowhere near any condition good enough to go to Brazil. A long tournament would be a struggle for a man injured for so long. Still, I would have taken him and play him vs Costa Rica as a reserve, gradually, but not vs. England.

The missing links? Florenzi & Criscito, perhaps Santon. Balotelli OUT, Quagliarella IN.

Prandelli will pay dearly for these errors.
on the 2nd June, 2014 at 1:07am
@suffork eyetie
I agree about the striker problem we have- BUT if cp wasnt such a donkey, hed have taken rossi off and put cerci on to actually get the ball to immob, atleast that way wed have actually seen him achieve something from a game that injured 2 players! When immob was serviced he scored which is why we need to see him with cassano! I have no faith in balo and Prandelli! Balo thinks hes a no.10, prandelli is mad to have wasted 2 years on gila and oswaldo n expect immob to gel in 1 game
on the 1st June, 2014 at 8:52pm
Rubbish display last night! Rossi defined the word overated- no excuses if hes there hes up to be critised like anyone else, useless! Motta defined the word rubbish! Verratti was simply brilliant and if his inclusion is only due to montolivo injury then cp is even more stupid than I thought! Cerci was made to look rubbish as CP stuck him as alone striker! Cassano- excellent, thanks to cp stupidity cassano had no striker to create for as cp took immob off! in my eyes, after 4 years, CP is clueles
on the 1st June, 2014 at 8:43pm
Cerci never scores for Italy, Insigne I rate, but he doesn't score enough. Immobile although has scored lots in Italy isn't proven at this level yet. So Balo and Cassano need to be firing on all cylinders. I dotn see where the goals are coming from. I think we will struggle to get through the group. Cesare is so over rated in my view. He is clueless.
on the 1st June, 2014 at 8:20pm
The 23 have been announced and whilst I am sad for Montolivio and Rossi (RM injured of course). I was at the game yesterday and could see Rossi was just not at his best and not sure whether 2 weeks would have been enough for him. I have always been a great admirer of GR, but only if he was going to be genuinely fit. I have to say that after Cassano came on in the second half Italy seemed sharper. I certainly saw why he was in the squad and picked for the 23. I hope he shows that form for the WC.
on the 1st June, 2014 at 7:34pm
ffs CP why Aqualani he brings nothing - he played crap yesterday even for the little time he was on.. The footballing gods were trying to tell you something with Monti and Aqualani.. Romulo would've been a better choice.. Even Insigne in midfield and Rossi the 5th striker... Having Aqualani in there is a waste of a selection better off taking Destro... I hope CP you have a master plan...

As ever - Forza Azzurri
on the 1st June, 2014 at 7:24pm
TonyITA agree most of opinions on yesterdays match. Was impressed by Verratti & Motta together. Watched them at PSG it seems the roles are reversed where yesterday MV was always in search for the ball. Few will be able to replace Pirlo's searching passes. We failed with pure striker with GR coming to deep to pick up the ball and no real penetration beyond the Irish defence. Both full backs got forward well by De Sciglio needing crossing practice. Even Balo not a purestriker option comes to deep
on the 1st June, 2014 at 3:42pm
I do feel its a big shame for RM. Get well soon!
However, I do not think he will be completely missed as the midfield for the Azzurri is pretty much covered. I too went to see the game and felt that there was some positive sign even with a pretty much second team. You can see that Italy are well organised and keep good possession. All we need now is the goals..........Forza Balotelli! My son was gutted he did not play but was star struck as he saw him on the coach arriving.
on the 1st June, 2014 at 2:02pm
altobelli you certainly have your wish with Riccardo and I for one feel he will be missed. Was at Craven Cottage and was watching RM being treated and as soon as he tried to run onto the field again his ankle went and he collapsed. "out of the World cup" was my instant reaction to my son. Hope Riccardo has a quick recovery but I certainly wish he was in Brazil. Yes I do think he can be replaced but the squad would have been stronger with him.
on the 1st June, 2014 at 10:44am
A lack lustre performance last night marred by Monti injury. Verratti shone out for me, Motta seems one-dimensional though steady. Darmain was very good going forward.. Rossi performed well though not impacting the game, Ciro had a good game for me and looked lively. Cassano looked very impressive and Italy looked more dangerous in the 2nd half along with De Rossi strengthened Italy.. Though Verratti was busy always wanted the ball he's about short passes not the quarterback style of Pirlo.
on the 1st June, 2014 at 10:44am
Can someone from the FIGC explain how Prandelli gets away with starting with an Italian B side Vs Ireland? Netherlands, England etc all played their proper teams. This is baffling. There isn't long before the World Cup and surely first team needs all the game time together as possible, no? Also, Prandelli needs to read the signs from God, Montolivo and Aquilani should both stay at home for this WC.
on the 31st May, 2014 at 7:54pm
@mark f
That would be coz of baggio! Thats why I remember!
on the 29th May, 2014 at 11:48pm
Looking Forward to seeing Gli Azzurri at Cravan Cottage. Lets hope CP and Gli Azzurri don't have their traditional pre tournament blip.
Think you may have started something Marc F Looking back to favourite World Cups obviously 82 & 06 are high on the list but 1990 is mine Until the semi. Still consider that Azzurri side as one of the best not to win the World Cup.
on the 29th May, 2014 at 8:25pm
USA 94 was my introduction to football and I have never looked back. Nicola Berti - what a classic Italian personality!!

Then of course, getting serious, there is Baggio and Baresi - my heart skips a beat whenever I see or hear their names. I fell in love with the game because of their beauty.

USA 94 taught me everything I needed to know to understand what it means to be an Azzurri fan.

We can be the worst team against the weakest, yet, in the same tournament, the best against the best.
on the 29th May, 2014 at 8:25pm
Aside from '82 and '06 (obviously), the 1994 World Cup is my absolute favourite. For some reason I can remember everything about that tourney.
on the 29th May, 2014 at 3:13pm

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