Monday June 9 2014
Italy’s pre-tournament burst

Italy showed improved signs in their final warm-up game ahead of the World Cup, thanks in particular to some former Pescara players, writes Livio Caferoglu. 

“Where is the victory?” they said. “Italy can’t win anymore,” they said. “Embarrassing. A mini Korea,” they said. Then was it only fitting that the newspapers were in for a rude awakening once Italy had showcased some of their most exciting football in recent memory on Sunday.

Italy’s form in 2014 has been well documented. A 1-1 draw with Luxembourg last week was considered the ultimate low point of their seven-match winless run, but the results don’t paint the full picture, even if their performance against Republic of Ireland may have been the exception.

In typically-Azzurri fashion, pre-World Cup friendlies have explicitly been used for experimentation. As efficient as their qualification campaign was, they rarely set the world alight, prompting fears that they would need significantly more to challenge for international supremacy.

Nevertheless, they exhibited a fluid attacking display in the 5-3 victory over Brazilian side Fluminense, a match which marked their last clash before their opening duel with England. They had played at a similar tempo against the Benelux nation only a few days prior - minus the clinical finishing and spots of wretched defending.

With no Mario Balotelli present in the first XI, and two attacking midfielders in Marco Parolo and Alberto Aquilani named in the centre of a 4-3-3 formation, Italy did away with the tactical mish-mash that the fans had recently become accustomed to. The fact that this would be their final opportunity to inspire some confidence back home probably played on Cesare Prandelli’s mind before kick-off.

Ciro Immobile’s hat-trick and a brace from Lorenzo Insigne weren’t the only bright spots either. The midfield looked bright and functional, with a succession of through balls and possession adeptly recycled, while width was always on hand thanks to the breezy movement of the Napoli forward and, to a lesser extent, Alessio Cerci.

Mattia Perin may not have exactly covered himself in glory with positional errors in two of Fluminense’s goals, the full-backs may have found themselves exposed far too often, and neither perhaps did Aquilani justify his inclusion in the 23-man party. But even all that aside, plenty of positives have been extracted from their pre-tournament experiences.

The influence of ex-Pescara trio Immobile, Insigne and Marco Verratti over the three matches has led to wider-reaching consequences in two fundamental areas. In Immobile, there is now a proven alternative to Balotelli, if the enigmatic striker fails to deliver. But most importantly, Verratti and Insigne have shown that they can bear the creative burden either with or without Andrea Pirlo on the pitch.

Identifying positives is a trait that the English are still seemingly incapable of, and judging by their draws against Ecuador and Honduras, the Three Lions appear no nearer to solving the conundrum that is Wayne Rooney – only exacerbated by former teammate Paul Scholes’ suggestion that the No 10’s best days have passed.

Elsewhere, Uruguay’s preparations have been distracted by Luis Suarez’s race to make himself available for their clash with Costa Rica, who in turn had happily gone about their business with a minimum amount of fuss – that is until Giancarlo Gonzalez’s left Ireland’s Kevin Doyle wounded after an ugly altercation at the weekend to leave his World Cup participation in the balance.

“Listen to me: these friendlies don't count. Friendlies played before big tournaments matter as much as football played in August, don't give too much weight to them,” commented 2006 World Cup-winning Coach Marcello Lippi. Combined with his heir’s ice-cool approach to criticism, self-belief has been Italy’s joker in the pack in past tournaments and will remain that way.

The 2-2 draw with Haiti prior to last year’s Confederations Cup culminated in an impressive third place, while they crumbled to a 3-0 defeat to Russia before finishing as runners-up at Euro 2012. It cannot be merely coincidence. It all lies in the preparation.

Keep up to date with the latest news and action from Spain's Primera Division with Football Espana - from the team behind Football Italia.

Have your say...
@maldini Follow the crowd- hahahahahha immobile has scored 22 goals! 22! In a team that has no real big stars! You sit here a milan fan banging on about honda and kaka and ses and de jong- do torino have stars like that?? Did immobile have players around him of that quality!! Open your eyes your making a massive twit of yourself! Destro and rossi scored more and they were injures half a season! You need a change of sport. You ha e no idea about football! Go watch netball!
on the 11th June, 2014 at 10:04pm
Iv said it all along. Il hold my hands up when I see him do just a fraction of the stuff hes hyped up to be! So far a good goal against germany is not goimg to cut it for me- he should have to work for his place like everyone else- destro, immob, and rossi are all in better form than hes been- im dont care about 2 years ago- he was lost in every game before and after that germany goal so for me I see nothing to rave about. Here and now- he isnt good enough for this world cup! Simple!
on the 11th June, 2014 at 9:57pm
@ mm that's nothing to be proud of. What it shows is that you follow the crowd so I'm not surprised you listen to all the nonsense that gets written about him. But seriously if he puts in a performance like he did against Mexico in the Confeds will you stop talking about him? You don't need to compliment him just stop talking about him. Or get help.
on the 11th June, 2014 at 4:35pm
@ mez I think that's a fair assessment. Its one of the biggest frustrations that he tries too much. I would say that since he's come to Milan he has started to do some really nice snappy first time passes and using his strength to win free kicks rather than diving (he still dives of course!). I think in the humidity he needs to keep it simple. Get goals and win free kicks like he did against Mexico in the Confeds and create assists like he did for Rossi against Nigeria.
on the 11th June, 2014 at 4:15pm
@maldini heir 86% immobile 14% balo I think im seeing what the 86% see; A striker that runs his arse off week in and week out, works for the team, actually scores and is a striker that can actually be a striker, who cant break into first bcoz of a over hyped, lazy, passionless twit is an automatic starter bcoz he scored a good goal 2 years ago! Its a joke!
on the 11th June, 2014 at 3:21pm
I think Balo thinks he needs to do something amazing everytime he gets the ball. He is still an uncooked striker in my eyes who has a lot to learn. I still remember the opening euro 2012 game against Spain when he nicked the ball off Ramos and then started casually jogging towards the Spanish goal. He has a very over inflated view of himself - in terms of ability and know how. I hope he has become a bit smarter in that sense or else Italy cn kiss group stages goodbye.
on the 11th June, 2014 at 12:49pm
Its a good job Balos girlfriend said yes to his marriage proposal otherwise he would have had yet another reason to sulk on the pitch !

What a time to propose !
on the 11th June, 2014 at 8:33am
@ mm No you see what you want to see. The fact is that if Prandelli decides to go with Balo against England then it will be difficult to argue against the decision based on his goals and performances for Italy. If Balo (like any player) does not perform can Prandelli will pick someone else. That's really it. However the impression I get is people like you are actually hoping for Balo to fail at this World Cup. If that's the case go support someone else because Italy does not need fans like you
on the 11th June, 2014 at 8:09am
4-1-4-1 which transforms into 3-4-3 when attacking:


on the 11th June, 2014 at 7:45am
Well he vanishes in nearly all the games wev seen him play, big or small so no point even trying to reason with maldini heir.. in his eyes balo strolling around like a spoilt rat blaming the whole team for a lack of goals when its his primary job to score is apparently normal! It bothers me 10 fold when I hear ppl say he cant play as outright striker- so please someone, anyone explain the point in a striker being an automatic choice who cant actually play as a striker??
on the 10th June, 2014 at 8:38pm
Maldini's Heir Balo won't beat the record because his azzurri shelf life is very short.

He doesn't make the effort for his club sides hence yet another move on the cards after only a year playing for Milan.He will slip into football wilderness and will stop being picked for Italy as other talents emerge.

Personally I believe he will have a decent world cup
because I suspect he may be a big game player who struggles in run of the mill league games but who needs the big games to turn him on.
on the 10th June, 2014 at 7:30pm
@maldini heir
I see what every one else does! I think the only person who needs help is the only man on here singing the praises of a man who thinks we should be honoured to see him play! He scored 1 good goal in the euros and vanished in every other game- so I guess that means he should start every game until he retires- in the meantime we will wait for him to hopefully pop up evry once and while!! Do you not see 10 men running about and him moaning?? Even buffon runs more than him in a game!
on the 10th June, 2014 at 6:36pm
@ Sonrella yes it's a good thing to be on course to be the all time leading goal scorer. Obviously his goals per game are not as good but he's on course. He may not reach that. He could get injured or do any of the things that his detractors are hoping he does. He could even decide to quit football and become a monk. But up to now he's on course. That's all
on the 10th June, 2014 at 5:18pm
Maldini's Heir you have gotta stop trying to reason with Balo haters as it obviously goes beyond football. Nothing you or Balo does will ever please these guys so use your energy to better effect. The only thing I criticise him for is showing displeasure to team mates. I hate that. Platini was 1 of the worst culprits, Ibra and CR7 do it. Messi has done it too. I just do not like seeing players do that. Friendlies might be meaningless for clubs but not for NTs 4 me. Theyre important in their way
on the 10th June, 2014 at 4:56pm
Maldini's Heir you say Balo's 12 goals in 30 games is a third of the way to Riva's 35 goals in 42 games as though thats a good thing.His goal ratio per game scored is well off.

I agree with those who say that Balo is lazy.He is.
I want to see someone play like Inzaghi who played every game like it was a world cup final and celebrated every goal like it was the winner.

Balo turned it on in Euro 2012 so lets hope he's a man for the big occasion.
on the 10th June, 2014 at 4:13pm
Granted Balo only scores against the small teams and big teams and most of his goals are either scored with his right foot, his left foot, his head or his chest. So these stats don't really count....
on the 10th June, 2014 at 3:41pm
Hey Balo Detractors I'm going hit you with some stats! So Italy's highest ever goal scorer is Riva with 35 goals in 42 games (that's ridiculously good). Anyway Balo is currently on 12 goals in 30 matches. Not quite as good BUT he's over a third of the way there. And he's only 24. And could play for another 10 years. Even if he only scored another 10 goals for Italy he'd be in the top 10.
on the 10th June, 2014 at 3:40pm
@ mm I'm not sure this is the right forum for you to engage in your obsessions. Maybe go and speak to a professional.
on the 10th June, 2014 at 3:24pm
A bit more optimisim please!!!! This is not the best Italy side I have seen but its not the worts either. They have a nice mix of new and veteran players. I dont think they will win the WC but they are better than the liks of England, Coista Rica & Uruguay. I would not attach too much importance to friendlies. They are meaningless and not a real reflection of what the team can/cant do...
on the 10th June, 2014 at 12:53pm
Balotelli proves with every "performance" just how useless he is and everytime prandelli picks him over a goal machine like immobile shows just how stupid parndelli is! We treat balotelli as if he is our messi or ronaldo, he is far far far from even good enough to clean their boots! Its utterly ridiculous that his name is even being mentioned let-alone an automatic first choice! He lazy, strolls around he used to fade in and out of games NOW hes just out of the game full stop, its ridiculous!
on the 10th June, 2014 at 12:02pm
not a contrarian, but i want to set in relief my concern as a fan: Italy were terrible against a club experiment. a 5-goal haul is illusory as it wrongly insinuates an enterprising attacking force. apart from a hat-trick + brace gift by the brazilians to the italians, the latter were error prone [insigne one of the main offenders] and strangely cautious for a team running up a cricket score. it will not be the italy of the finals, i'm sure. but very keen NOT to see the 08/06/2014 azzurri again.
on the 10th June, 2014 at 11:21am
It wasn't particularly relevant that we conceded 3 goals or that the Insigne/Immobile partnership worked so well because this will not be our team against England.

The one thing I've taken from this game is that Immobile showed what he can do especially with his 1st and 3rd goals.
Ok against Ireland it was a different story so we can't get too carried away.

Balo is our Wayne Rooney.Neither manager has the guts not to start with either player even though they are not in form.
on the 10th June, 2014 at 9:03am
The same goes for the Prandelli detractors. These people are even more bizarre given Prandelli's track record with the Azzurri (I know we lost to the best team in the world in the final of the Euros he should've been sacked). For me the pressure is off both Prandelli and Balo since both have already surpassed expectations in 2012 (I must be easily pleased or not delusional).
on the 10th June, 2014 at 8:41am
The Balo detractors are so boring (and obsessed). We're on the eve of the tournament. He's there whether you like it or not and for some unknown reason Prandelli will likely stick with his leading scorer against England. I can't see it being much fun for any of you. You'll all be sitting there hoping you're proven right and Balo plays badly so you can come on here and say you told us so. Why not just enjoy the game and hope for the best?
on the 10th June, 2014 at 8:38am
I'm not sure where managers get the idea that Balo cannot play as a support striker. Some of his best performances this season for Milan were alongside Matri and Pazzo. Balo and Immobile can play together. Balo's assist (I know he never passes etc) against Nigeria and against Luxemburg (I know he's not a team player blah blah blah) shows that he does well around the edges. The thing I like about our strikers is they can all play together. Even Cassano as a false 9 with Insigne.
on the 10th June, 2014 at 8:33am
But I think Immobile and Insigne should start against Latin American teams like Brazil and Costa Rica though. They tend to use their pace well to catch errors from teams that like to high press the attacking line. Boy, aren't we glad to get rid off Gila and Osvaldo?
on the 9th June, 2014 at 9:54pm
Immobile finally opened his account for Italy against Flu. But he also didn't score in friendlies against Spain and Ireland, in which he started with Rossi. Balo scored against Germany and Brazil, and made many assists in recent friendlies. Immobile still has to do more to replace Mario, which is all a good thing for Italy.
on the 9th June, 2014 at 9:52pm
Okay Fluminese are nowhere near a top team but the important thing is there was appetite and quality shown by some players as people pay good money to watch Italy and their attitude against Luxembourg was disgusting. Immobile and Insigne looked very good as did Barzagli when he came on. Very disappointed in Cassano's performance n Balo should quit showing his displeasure at teammates. How is it that Abate can play so well defensively against CR7 and be hopeless in other matches? Good luck to em
on the 9th June, 2014 at 9:50pm
I am now officially confused. What are Mirante and Ranocchia still doing there in June 8th? 4 goalkeepers? what for? I am amazed he did not pick a specialist left back as that is crazy. De Sciglo cannot cross the ball and I am still unsure of what all the fuss is all about him. Cerci and Candreva leave me wondering what has happened to Italy. Y are they there talk less of being in the 1st team. Not sold on Marchisio either tbh. OMG Motta kills games by bringing them to a complete standstill
on the 9th June, 2014 at 9:43pm
It's funny how a win transform our optimism about this Italy team . Just maybe fluminese were a good test which I feel they were !! They played good football fast passing physical which became a real test . However Prandelli knows exactly what he is doing ! Forbo if you know what that means !!!! (Crafty) full team will be strong come Saturday however the cross and long ball will present problems . Italy need to take there chances and will defo win . Can't wait best team will win . Forza Italia
on the 9th June, 2014 at 9:33pm

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