Cesare Prandelli must be wondering what he’s done to deserve all this. Giuseppe Rossi snaps the same knee ligament twice in six months, Antonio Cassano is barely back after heart surgery, a friendly scrapped due to an earthquake, Domenico Criscito dropped following a frankly over-zealous police dawn raid on the Coverciano training ground and the betting scandal threatening to envelop more of his Italy squad. At this rate, Prime Minister Mario Monti’s suggestion football stop for two years might seem like a blessed relief to the Italy Coach. The 3-0 defeat to Russia was just the icing on a really foul-tasting cake.
It feels as if Italy are going to Euro 2012 with the same state of mind as someone who promised to attend a party and now have the flu: they’d rather not bother, but they have to make an appearance. The media have the same approach, which is why this morning the Azzurri match was not the top story on two out of the three sports papers. The crowd in Zurich cheered wildly at the early stages of the game with the kind of enthusiasm that a) proved they weren’t living in Italy and b) was bound to result in a horrible let-down.
It wasn’t always this way. Prandelli’s era had shown us great hope and faith for the future, bringing in a new and more attacking style of football that made it clear to Marcello Lippi that the 2006 squad wasn’t going to last forever. Mario Balotelli and Cassano were welcomed in as integral elements rather than risky bets. Sadly, a chaotic set of circumstances meant last night was the first time since August 2010 that those two forwards were able to play together. It’s really no way to prepare for a tournament.
Everyone was concerned by the choice of strikers, especially as Italy have failed to score in three consecutive friendly defeats, but the game with Russia highlighted there are far more pressing issues. The midfield ought to be solid as rock with Andrea Pirlo flanked by Claudio Marchisio and Daniele De Rossi. Riccardo Montolivo is the weak link – how many times have we said that at club and international level? The truly disconcerting element is in defence. Christian Maggio had by his own admission a total nightmare in Zurich and Leonardo Bonucci wasn’t much better. It remains a mystery to me how Andrea Barzagli is anywhere near the Nazionale and Federico Balzaretti is apparently there through lack of alternatives. This is the rock-solid defence we aimed to face Spain with?
We have to learn from what the Serie A season has shown us, which is the 3-5-2 adopted by Juventus. Most of the players are accustomed to it in one way or another, it’ll allow the midfield to provide more of a filter, so Maggio and Balzaretti can push forward. Giorgio Chiellini is sorely needed, but that goes without saying, just as Gigi Buffon needs to be wrapped in cotton wool for fear of having to play Morgan De Sanctis.
Let us prepare for Euro 2012 with the philosophy of the professional pessimist: anything short of total disaster is to be considered a bonus.