We’re still at an early stage in qualification, but, as Giancarlo Rinaldi writes, Italy-Denmark could be one of the most crucial in Group B.
It was a great performance, it was a terrible performance. Opinion was hugely divided between Press and Azzurri over their display in Armenia. But now they face a moment of true judgment on their qualification qualities when Denmark roll into town.
There has been little of the sweet, flowing football witnessed at Euro 2012 in Italy’s first three group games on the road to the World Cup. It has been a much more sporadically entertaining and sometimes lethargic outfit which has taken to the field. They can, however, set the record straight with a resounding victory on Tuesday.
The other results have already been quite kind to the boys in blue and a win would allow them to look at the group table with a degree more relaxation. They might also buy Cesare Prandelli a little more breathing space from a media pack which has quickly kicked any feel good factor from the summer into touch. The fact is, that without a decent display this week he will face some of the most stern criticism of his time in charge so far.
To avoid that eventuality, of course, he needs a helping hand from his players. They have not always looked 100 per cent concentrated on the job in hand and those distractions have thrown their opponents a lifeline in matches. It is up to them to put thoughts of the Campionato to one side and give their all to the Azzurri cause.
A goal for Sebastian Giovinco would help both player and Coach. A barnstorming Mario Balotelli display might rekindle the good vibes of the European Nations. And a real leader’s performance from Riccardo Montolivo would also be something that could light up a brighter future for the team.
Not that their opponents are exactly sitting pretty. A sluggish start means Denmark, too, need a more convincing display. A defeat would leave their qualification dream severely damaged – and for the highest ranked opponent in Italy’s group that would be a pretty depressing situation.
That puts all the ingredients together for an entertaining, if nervous, night at San Siro. It seems early in the Group B proceedings to make such claims, but it really could be one of the defining matches of qualification for both sides. With so much at stake, it should be a gripping encounter.
Make no mistake, the Danes are a tricky obstacle for Italy and they would be foolish to take them lightly. If minds wander to the weekend fixtures in Serie A, then they are likely to be punished. Past history suggests this is undoubtedly the case.
Although the Azzurri hold an admirable seven wins to three advantage with just one draw between the sides, they have been tripped up by Denmark in the past. Once came in World Cup qualification back in 1981 while preparing for glory in Spain. Another defeat came in Napoli in 1999, en route to Euro 2000. And the current Danish side would love to emulate those great performances of yesteryear and throw the group wide open in the process. It is up to Italy to ensure they play like Euro Nations runners-up and give them no such opportunity.