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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.

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Have your say...
Just read some of CP comments, positive things coming out from the camp! CP says “This is a team that in terms of fitness has the chance to get to the latter stages of the World Cup.”.. Not if the defence leaks goals like it has been lately. We seem to get in front then concede very quickly. Lets hope CP irons out those errors... Though one error he can't fix now and that's Aquilani!

Forza Azzurri
on the 9th June, 2014 at 10:28pm
CONCENTRATION(specially at the start and towards the end of each half respectively),DISCIPLINE and STAMINA are going to be the MOST crucial elements !!! Also teamwork. FORZA AZZUUUUURRRRRIIIIIIIII !!!!!!!!!!!!!
on the 9th June, 2014 at 8:44pm
Haha so much negativity until we win a game now everyone is talkin like we'r favourites. Hold your horses! A great game to watch no doubt but the real games wont play out quite like this. One thing though, Immobile and Insigne MUST start, these guys are on fire and have been all season, unlike Balo who is and has been blowing hot and cold. Every minute Balo spends on the pitch against England will count against us. He should be the 'impact sub', Immobile must start. FORZA ITALIA!!!
on the 9th June, 2014 at 6:25pm
staring 11 has got to be....
buffon
abate barzagli paletta chiellini

marchisio pirlo de rossi

verratti

immobile balotelli

FROZA ITALIA...
on the 9th June, 2014 at 5:50pm
BUFFON
ABATE - BARZAGLI - CHIELLINI - DE SCIGLIO
DE ROSSI
CANDREVA - PIRLO - MOTTA
INSIGNE/CASSANO/CERCI
IMMOBILE

I don't see why Balotelli seems to be an automatic choice. The other 4 forwards, and even Destro and Rossi, have all had better seasons than the Milan man.

England's defense is their weak spot and although Italy will need to defend well against a pretty decent-looking attack, they should really go to win this. Win this and they have one foot in the knockouts.
on the 9th June, 2014 at 5:27pm
The choice was either Rossi or Insigne....as much as I like Rossi Insigne is a beast and not just after this game, he was before as well.
on the 9th June, 2014 at 5:17pm
Immobile, Insigne and Darmian need to start against England...Balotelli is good for one thing and that is getting Italy free kicks on the edge of the penalty area...perfect for Pirlo to do his stuff. Apart from that I would drop him. He's proven time and again that he can't be bothered.
on the 9th June, 2014 at 4:59pm
from an offensive point of view i liked what i saw, But it was only a friendly and you cant take anything from it. I thought Immobile and insigne were excellent, there pace could be invaluable, i still think prandelli will start candreva and marchisio in support of balotelli. I personally disagree with that, Candreva has not scored in 21 appearnces and has no cutting edge and marchisio is a hard working cm. Balotelli will be isolated in that formation.
on the 9th June, 2014 at 4:51pm
Balotelli is a lazy, arrogant over rated player, cassano too, those two lads did more in the first half last night than I have seen from any of the strikers in a long time. Aquilani is not good enough for the team and cerci isn’t either. The defence was a disaster last night, but for the first time in ages Italy attacked with some pace and energy as immobile and insigne ran tirelessly.
on the 9th June, 2014 at 4:13pm
No point getting too carried away with a result against what I'm sure was a weakened club side. I don't think you can have it both ways. Either friendlies matter/are a gauge of what to expect in competitive matches or they're not. I would say they're not and there's not too much to read from this result. However the performances of Immobile and Insigne were encouraging. Balo and Cassano really need to lift their games which can only be a good thing.
on the 9th June, 2014 at 2:10pm
"Proven alternative to balotelli"... is this a joke?? Immobile should replace him altogether! What do strikers have to do to replace balotelli in this team?? I mean come on, there would be an argument if he was capable of scoring, but he doesnt and he wonders around like we owe him something! Immobile muat start- and if there was any chance to send balo home and bring destro- do it now!!!!
on the 9th June, 2014 at 1:54pm
Immobile would be a great player to start. His movement is not well known as much as Balotelli. He could be a real ace up your sleeve.
The bigger concern is the defense. The offence hopefully makes up for the defensive shortfalls we will be witnessing. De Rossi needs to lead the defensive line and be at the top of his game.
on the 9th June, 2014 at 1:45pm
It was certainly a very lively and entertaining game. The English commentators loved the game. Though, they're still unsure of Italy's line up for England and formation would be, so CP still didn't give too much away other than showing the talents of Immobile and Insigne. It was great to see Pirlo and Co waiting behind the goal and congratulating Immobile on his goal.. Probably a great relief that someone is finding the back of the net.

Forza Italia
on the 9th June, 2014 at 1:42pm
Italy is the mother of all football. No other nation understands the tactical and pschylogical approach to the game as well as the azzurri.I They love being the underdog and disrespected as they are at the moment by the football world. Watch out for a 5th title in brazil! This has been Prandelli's and Italy's secret desire all along. The Brazil curse needs to be cured!!!
on the 9th June, 2014 at 1:05pm

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