Good old second game syndrome. Any Italy fan will be able to tell you it’s right to get nervous after winning the opener in a major tournament. A strong start is rarely a good sign for the Nazionale. Having England fans cheering us on and Gary Lineker wearing an Azzurri jersey just added to the bad mojo. Will it be Euro 1996 with first round elimination, or like Germany 2006 when we had to beat the Czech Republic to go through?
Ultimately luck played only the tiniest part in the defeat to Costa Rica. Italy did not perform up to scratch and looked to be feeling the after-effects of that game in Manaus. All except for Thiago Motta, who apparently was born drained of all energy and is the world’s only Brazilian who suffers with the heat in Brazil.
I have often criticised the Paris Saint-Germain midfielder and this showing in Recife really did just convince me: I don’t get it with Thiago Motta. I don’t understand his appeal, why he keeps being picked and what on earth he is supposed to bring to the squad. He’s less creative than Marco Verratti, more predictable than Alberto Aquilani and can be outdone for pace by Cesare Prandelli. We really should just introduce Prandelli as the first player-manager in a World Cup rather than ever play Thiago Motta again. He’s petulant, slow, sluggish, can’t defend, certainly can’t create and had the nerve to say being accustomed to the heat was “the only difference” between Italy and Costa Rica.
Prandelli had an important choice to make in Recife. He could either shake things up and rely on fresh legs on top of clear minds to take the Costa Rica game with the respect it deserved or stick with the same overall side that beat England in an attempt to secure qualification early. He did a bit of both and got the worst of both worlds.
Thiago Motta was dreadful in place of Verratti, negating the quality of the dual playmaker system to make Italy predictable and staid. Matteo Darmian had done so well in Manaus that putting him on the left seemed a waste, especially when Ignazio Abate has still not learned how to put in a decent cross. The Milan man is very quick, but getting to the by-line and then looking confused isn’t terribly helpful. Giorgio Chiellini was perhaps exhausted from playing as a full-back against England, because that was a disastrous performance in the centre and he should’ve given away a penalty too.
With Andrea Barzagli carrying an injury and Chiellini visibly shattered, can there be any reason not to play Leonardo Bonucci? His absence continues to baffle me, especially when he’s capable of inspired long-range passes.
The fresh legs were supposed to revive the team, but Antonio Cassano, Alessio Cerci and Lorenzo Insigne were the worst of the lot. I was so looking forward to seeing what they could do in this World Cup, especially the Napoli starlet, but his trickery and skill are pointless if he’s permanently offside. I also get the feeling Cerci is still psychologically scarred from his penalty miss for Torino on that final day of the season, even though in the end Parma’s unbalanced books made it irrelevant for Europa League qualification.
Now Italy find themselves in that oh so familiar position of needing a result in the last game of the group. In this case, it’s a head-to-head with Uruguay after Luis Suarez had plenty of target practice against England to get his match fitness levels up. It will be played in Natal at 13.00 local time against a South American side.
It doesn’t bode well, but then that seems to be just how the Azzurri like it in a World Cup.