Given their less than ideal build-up to Euro 2012, it is difficult to view Italy’s 1-1 draw with Spain as anything other than a success. The most important aspect of the game, perhaps more than the result, was the performance of the 3-5-2 against a top side. In that respect, playing Spain first has been timely – no other outfit will expose flaws like the team that has dominated international football for the past four years.
And there can be no doubt that there were flaws, but Italy Coach Cesare Prandelli is in the interesting position of having to learn on the fly – he has not used a 3-5-2 at any stage during his tenure, and so he will be seeing these problems for the first time during matches, meaning solutions are going to be devised mid-tournament between games.
That said, for large parts of the game Italy competed very well. Spain won the possession battle, as they usually do, but the Azzurri were not totally dominated. They created chances both sides of the break, despite obviously tiring towards the end of the game. Claudio Marchisio and Thiago Motta supported the forwards well, with both having opportunities to score, and Christian Maggio improved on the shambles of his Russia efforts.
Daniele De Rossi deserves a special mention – to shift into a central defensive role against players of this class and perform as he did was a large reason that he and his team came away with a draw. Although he was not quite the rampaging libero many would have hoped, he was a vital option in possession, and allowed Andrea Pirlo to operate just that little bit further forward, safe in the knowledge he was going to receive the ball.
It allowed Pirlo to make a short burst forward to set up Antonio Di Natale in the second half – something that probably would not have happened in a 4-3-1-2, and without De Rossi behind him.
The Roma man was also central to some of the flaws Spain easily exposed with the simple introduction of a striker. First and foremost is that he is not a defender – this was clear when he had to directly match up to a striker with quality and who knew what he was doing, albeit one that could not take the chances he was given.
Italy are unlikely to come up against another side in the tournament that do not play with a striker, certainly the Republic of Ireland and Croatia will start with one, and even if they met Spain again – which can only happen in the Final – you would have to imagine Vicente Del Bosque will learn from this game and play Fernando Torres from the beginning. Had he done so on Sunday, the result could well have been different.
It is a conundrum for Prandelli – De Rossi was superb on the ball, but looked every inch the midfielder out of position against a top striker. A genuine central defender would have a better chance of dealing with Torres, and the plethora of tricky opponents Italy could encounter further down the line, but will not offer his quality in possession.
Torres also brought a second problem to Prandelli’s attention – with a striker to occupy De Rossi, he did not see anywhere near as much of the ball, and any semblance of control Italy had disappeared. Spain’s domination increased, aided by fatiguing Italians, Pirlo dropped deeper, and they resorted to a pseudo-Napoli style of football, which in many ways is the complete opposite of the Prandelli ideal.
That is something the Coach must solve before Thursday’s match against Croatia. Italy will lose out if De Rossi cannot get on the ball, and it practically negates everything useful that comes with deploying him there instead of a real central defender. Just when Italy think they have the answers, Spain change the questions.
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