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Sunday June 15 2014
Adaptable Azzurri

Victory over England proved Italy can both flourish with best-laid plans and tear them up to start again, says Susy Campanale.

It was far from the ideal way to prepare for a World Cup opener. Losing Riccardo Montolivo and accepting Giuseppe Rossi’s lack of fitness. Days beforehand Mattia De Sciglio was ruled out, then with hours to spare legendary captain Gigi Buffon followed suit. Giorgio Chiellini had to brush the cobwebs off his left-back boots and Salvatore Sirigu make only his second competitive outing in an Azzurri jersey – the other being four years ago in Estonia. It’s enough to make a Coach like Cesare Prandelli tear his hair out.

England thought they had done everything right, taking advantage of Italy’s injury woes to field an all-attack side with the Raheem Sterling/Danny Welbeck question transformed into a Sterling+Welbeck equation. In theory, Roy Hodgson had the game in the palm of his hand. In theory.

Italians flourish when they are up against the odds, we all know that and this is also why friendly draws against Luxembourg aren’t particularly frightening. We don’t like it easy. Far too boring. Drop the Nazionale into a full-blown crisis and they are in Blue Heaven. Sirigu – thank goodness – is no Federico Marchetti, as we all feared a repeat of the South Africa debacle when Buffon was last injured in a World Cup. Paris Saint-Germain have a great goalkeeper and he showed an admirably cool head under immense pressure.

England changed some of their tactics at the last minute, but it was mainly the same approach promised by Hodgson: try to close down Andrea Pirlo and attack with pace. The problem here is that Prandelli saw old Roy coming a mile away and had plenty of time to undermine the whole affair. Run at Pirlo every time he is near the ball? Then he’ll sell you a dummy and create space for the other Italy players. It worked like a charm on Claudio Marchisio’s goal and on several occasions, suggesting this double playmaker system with Marco Verratti has real legs in future too.

Daniele De Rossi’s position is also crucial, providing the kind of coverage and security that for example Milan sorely needed in their final seasons with Pirlo. This quality of midfield is only sustainable thanks to the Roma man, who is effectively working as a sweeper. And, let’s face it, an extra sentinel was essential with Gabriel Paletta there...

Prandelli said tactics and line-ups could change at the last minute, but not fitness levels. He was proved so very right at the Arena Amazonia. Usually it’s Italy players gasping for air in the final minutes of games, but we were greeted to the unusual sight of Azzurri veterans like Chiellini helping young England starlets deal with cramp. It was a Twilight Zone moment, much like seeing the England physio stretchered off with a sprained ankle after over-celebrating.

The Nazionale experienced these conditions in the Confederations Cup last year and learned a great deal from it. Building the so-called ‘Casetta Manaus’ – basically a sauna – in Italy’s training camp was a masterstroke. England merely trained with several layers of clothing, but that cannot hope to replicate the humidity and stifling air of an Amazonian rainforest environment. It’s a completely different kettle of steamed fish. Prandelli’s staff deserve absolute praise for this performance and we can only hope the fitness levels are maintained during the tournament, especially in less challenging atmospheric conditions.

Another great piece of planning was Matteo Darmian. He can really be the Fabio Grosso of Brazil 2014, a full-back from a minor club who suddenly bursts on to the scene and proves decisive. The 24-year-old Torino talent was remarkable against England and it looks as if we’ve finally found the right player for that role after searching through so many dire options. Christian Maggio, goodbye and never come back. However, it now seems worrying that Prandelli doesn’t have a replacement left-back when De Sciglio has spent most of the season injured at Milan already.

Finally, a word of praise for Mario Balotelli. He worked hard, did not let frustration get the better of him and kept plugging away even after a spectacular Phil Jagielka goalline clearance denied him that long-awaited breakthrough. I am glad SuperMario silenced his critics, though I am confident this blog will still receive numerous comments insisting he should be dropped. Chatter away, because Balo is here to stay.

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Have your say...
Nice to see that RuBe defense give up that goal. Barzagli's got some nice pace and positioning/sarcasm on the Rooney build up to the goal.

Susy, I wish you had flown to Brazil to kick Ranocchia. Even chance a rubber bullet would have hit you or Ranocchia would have stomped you into the ground.

Either way, for sure someone would have got it on the web somehow. I always like to watch something funny when I make popcorn.
on the 15th June, 2014 at 3:38am
eh!as an england fan,i say r u mad,he won the game 4 u.He scored one good goal with subtle but great movement n had one great effort despite being a bit isolated.As 4 lazy,he waz knackered before he waz substituted,u could tell he had put in 100percent.Italy were more clinical 2night.England at least attacked this time but will b disappointed due 2 italys missing players,i thought they had their best chance in ages.Still fancied italy though.Pirlo,GENIUS n if u mark him,it gives space 4 others
on the 15th June, 2014 at 3:33am
Gaja,

Mark of a fantastic striker? Let us see the rest of this tournament how he does. I bet you $50.00 he comes up short.

At least Immobile ran his ass off. He was on less than 20 mins. Balo touched, walked, missed several chances, then scored from a perfectly placed Candreva cross, much like the Cassano pass in Euro 2012.

A striker has to 1) run, 2) assist, 3) and score frequently, dangerously. Watch Robben, Ronaldo, Cavani, THESE are fantastic players. Ignorant!
on the 15th June, 2014 at 3:10am
All very true!

But the only disappointing part of the match was the subs! Motta makes too many mistakes in dangerous places! Immobile was useless, freshest pair of legs on the pitch and only had to beat one exhausted defender to have a one on one with the keeper! And parolo didn't have much time to get into the game! Lost a creativity when veratti came off! Maybe should have gone with Cassano or insigne to hold the ball up, and take the pressure off the defense. Great performance all in all!
on the 15th June, 2014 at 3:01am
Never seen a striker receive so many balls/passes at his feet and do absolutely nothing with them.

Is it smart to continue with a striker that 1) has such a low work rate, 2) runs little & scores rarely in action, apart from when balls are passed exactly to his feet (or head) like tonight? Look forward to Messi tomorrow.

Balo's chances are rare in front of goal, but he is no champion. Yet the adoration goes on ESPN!

Change up front: perhaps Balo w/ Immobile, Cassano/Insigne 2nd half
on the 15th June, 2014 at 2:58am
I do hope this silences those who criticised Balotelli's presence in the first XI and even the squad. His goal and even the chance that was cleared off the line were the mark of a fantastic striker. Most of you were calling for Immobile to start but the number of times he was caught offside and the opportunities he failed to put away shows he's still lacking the experience required at international level, something which SuperMario is now using to better effect.
on the 15th June, 2014 at 2:44am

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