Friday June 15 2012
Italy ignored warning signs

Cesare Prandelli blamed poor finishing as the reason why Italy didn’t beat Croatia, but Rob Paton argues differently.

‘Only win’ emblazoned the Gazzetta dello Sport on their Thursday morning edition. The message to Cesare Prandelli’s Italy was simple. Follow up the good signs shown against Spain with a win against Croatia, to ensure that passage to the knock-out stages would remain entirely in their own hands. However, they did not win, and it is not entirely in their own hands anymore.

Opponents Croatia went into the game unchanged – like Italy – from their first Group C match, predominantly in mentality as well as in line-up. Slaven Bilic maintained two strikers up top supported by attacking midfielders and sent his players out with a clear directive to press high up the pitch quickly and consistently to stop Italy building play from the back.

Key to their early fluidity in the match was Nikica Jelavic and Mario Mandzukic carrying out this task from the very front, backed up by their midfield colleagues too. Their successful occupation of the Azzurri’s central spine for the first 30 minutes and final 45 kept Andrea Pirlo, Thiago Motta and Claudio Marchisio deep, to try and support each other in passing around their running. This retreat of Italy’s midfield crucially allowed for the Croats to push forward into the subsequent space in the middle of the park, and to really target where Italy have been shown in recent outings against Russia and Spain to be vulnerable, in the full-back positions.

Indeed, notable to Croatia’s early spell of pressure, that returned after a half-time reminder from Bilic for most of the second half too, was the ability for the side to regularly work two-on-one situations around Christian Maggio and Emanuele Giaccherini, with the Italians tactically unable to answer it and the result a high number of crosses for Daniele De Rossi, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini to face.

There were the warning signs in the first half, as Croatia missed a couple of good chances and also had a penalty shout turned down from this scenario. However, perhaps in light of a drop in intensity that allowed Italy back into play to finish the first 45, these were largely ignored by the Azzurri, and ultimately to their detriment.

Chiellini will likely shoulder blame for his misjudged positioning for the cross that led to Croatia’s equaliser, but it is an issue reminiscent of Nicola Legrottaglie’s complaints when Catania switched from a back four to a back three during the season – with the extra man in the middle of defence, there is sometimes a tendency to relax and think someone has your back covered. Relevant or not to this case, the Juventus defender’s mistake should only be acknowledged in the context that if the Croats had a pair of full-backs that could cross better, Italy would have lost the game and perhaps by a couple of goals.

Post-match, Prandelli and a couple of his players looked to push attention on to their own poor finishing in front of goal as the difference between the desired result and the actual one. Certainly, the game wasn’t all doom and gloom for Italy, as they demonstrated during Croatia’s first-half ascendancy a very sharp practice on the counter-attack and during Croatia’s first-half lull, an excellent passage of interchange play in the final third. The first 45’s ability to represent a significant danger to the Croats through two completely different routes to goal is both a promising feature to this team and one reflective of Prandelli’s ethos as a Coach.

However, the opportunity for final-third interchange disappeared in the second half as Croatia pinned the midfield back, whilst the Azzurri’s strength on the counter-attack dissipated surprisingly early too, as Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano both lost energy and movement. Indeed, for only seeing second half intensity return once the fresh legs of Sebastian Giovinco and Antonio Di Natale were both on, combined with completely failing to answer Croatia’s very simple targeted play of pressing from the front and testing Maggio and Giaccherini, Prandelli should face questions on the viability of this 3-5-2 formation and on the timing of his substitutions.

Whether or not Italy should have won through converting more of their chances in that final 15 minutes of the first half, as the team and its Coach argues, is a side issue to answering why they faced consistent pressure for almost the entirety of the other 75 minutes. 

Have your say...
shocking article! should of kept balo on and put nocerino on. we played well 1st half (could of been 3-0 up) and sat back too much 2nd half. we are not match fit yet but if we progress through the group stage, which we should, we will start peaking. we tend to struggle against more physical sides like croatia and
on the 22nd January, 2015 at 8:39am
Good blog. Italy seem to relax too much when they take the lead and suffer a lot in the 2nd half. I think CP got the subs wrong against croatia and should have switched tactics. It is also very annoying that Italy seemed happy to draw this match. Balzaretti and Abate are much better than Giach and Maggio. Nocerino trumps Motta and Monty should not play for Italy ever. Also u push up against teams that play the target system not defend deep and u don't use long balls when u have no S to hold up.
on the 18th June, 2012 at 10:25am
drop cassano put balo & di.natale up front
play 4-4-2
on the 18th June, 2012 at 6:57am
Football is all about opinions but I have never seen so many different opinions concerning 1 squad. Pirlo is brilliant/His rubbish. Derossi is great a CB/place him Back in Midfield. MB is our Saviour/He should be shot, to name a few differences.Who is correct. Me of course and I should manage The Azzurri. Lets get behind The Azzurri and Prandelli and even if we do exit early I have seen enough to convice me we can build on this. They are difficult to beat but must learn how to win. QUICKLY.
on the 17th June, 2012 at 8:40pm
Can anyone explain to me what Aldo is on about. Cassano in front of goal passes sideways. Balotelli was the only one who would shoot at goal. He's young, inexperienced and personally makes me go mad but it should be Di Natale and Balotelli. We need to score which means actually shooting at goal.
on the 17th June, 2012 at 4:58pm
@Aldo I must disagree with you on the subject Balotelli. The reason Prandelli kept Balo in the starting 11 even after the game against Spain is because Balo is young, inexperienced & unable to cope with certain situations. If Prandelli had benched him the lad would have lost all confidence and wouldn't be worth anything for the rest of the tournament, & if we progress to the next round Balo needs all the confidence he can get. So i think the decision to stick with Balo took a lot of guts.
on the 17th June, 2012 at 1:32pm
abate-marchisio-pirlo-de rossi-balzaretti
---------cassano--di natale---------
subs: giovinco, balotelli, motta
on the 17th June, 2012 at 12:49pm
I just hope that the Balotelli's indecisive miss against Spain doesn't haunt Italy. When you look back we should have beaten Spain and the draw with Croatia was fair result. CP needed to drop Balotelli after that first game, but lacked guts to do so. He may now be forced to drop him due to injury, but knowing CP he'll probably put Barzagli upfront. Poor finishing + coward management = early exit? I hope I am so wrong! Forza Italia!
on the 17th June, 2012 at 9:43am
The Italian media is responsible for creating paranoia, regarding the performance of other teams. They shpuld focus on Italy, and the lack of urgency they displayed in the second half versus Croatia. If a draw will eliminate them, it is because they have drawn twice themselves, four times actually if you count 2004, and won only once.
and for Mr. Clegane: If you haven't seen Pirlo loose possesion, you've never seen a Milan match...
on the 17th June, 2012 at 5:51am
boss, there is nothing wrong with supporting your country. Even English football fans have been blinded by ignorance in the past. Azzurri fans would still prefer to follow Italy over England because we prefer four stars over three lions.

Despite the garbage "boss" has said to run Italy down, the Azzurri have shot themselves in the foot. Everyone associated with the Azzurri must focus on their situation, not on Spain v Croatia. If we go home, it was because we didn't control our destiny.
on the 17th June, 2012 at 4:40am
Balotelli. That's the warning sign. "The next baggio", "the saviour of italian football"- hey presto, all he's done so far, which he seems to be great at, is........ Pick up a yellow card! All the media hype, all the build up for what exactly? From day 1 I have doubted this 'phenomenon' which is balotelli, all Iv ever seen is arrogance,laziness,stroppy, spoilt mentally unstable boy who is honestly a massive waste of time and effort. Change for final game now, I'm bored of watching him miss now!
on the 17th June, 2012 at 2:52am
Di Natale is a proven goalscorer and to see him sat on the bench whilst Cassano and Bolotelli pose virtually no threat is just ridiculous. Would they get in the Spanish or German team, not a chance, so why are they deemed good enough for the Azzurri. Give Di Natale the service and he will deliver, his magnificent finish against Spain proved it. Matri and Pepe should both have been in the squad, as they both work very hard for the team and have the ability to score vital goals in big matches.
on the 16th June, 2012 at 10:59pm
I dont think Italy's problem is tactical or physical. Clearly it is a mental problem, they do not believe they are stronger than Croatia or Ireland anymore when in fact they are, even with a poor strike force at the disposal. Italy went back to the old mentality of sitting deep and defending a 1 goal lead, but Italian defenders do not man mark like they used to, they are short on confidence and they think the mistake is inevitable.
on the 16th June, 2012 at 10:54pm




on the 16th June, 2012 at 10:54pm
"You all need to support a real team, England ;)"

In the last 40 years Turkey, Poland, South Korea, Bulgaria, Croatia and Belgium have made the last 4 of the World Cup the same number of times (or more) than England! lol
on the 16th June, 2012 at 9:14pm
I usually don't like to blame referees for a poor result but one can hardly ignore the subtle refereeing "mistakes" that helped Croatia. Glaring examples:

1 - 2 Croatian players collide in the penalty area, giving us a great chance at goal but no... the ref blew the whistle and gave the free kick to Croatia. Why blow the whistle for something you couldn't have seen *as it didn't happen!* A poor call that might have cost us a goal.
2 - A bogus offside call at midfield that negated a breakaway
on the 16th June, 2012 at 3:48pm
Pirlo is clearly good for just 1 half...he is a genius but he just doesn't have the legs for an entire match. He was never the fastest player but he is excellent at retaining possession and can dribble and use quick feet when needed to get out of tightest of situations. However, in the 2nd half vs Cr he just didn't seem quick enough. Things he could do even 2 years ago without breaking a sweat were not coming off that well. I have never seen him lose possesion like he did in his last 2 match
on the 16th June, 2012 at 3:01pm
"It just occurred to me, who the hell are Italy to accuse Spain/Croatia of fixing a game. The last time i checked it wasnt Spain and croatia all over the papers for match fixing."

Because in Italy these things are actually investigated, unlike elsewhere in Europe. Have you not been reading about the findings of the Leveson inquiry this week? The UK is as corrupt as any country in Europe, but we never hear about it Murdoch owns the press.

BTW Croatia has had plenty of fixing scandals too.
on the 16th June, 2012 at 2:30pm
Whatever happens on Monday.... The way Italy have played bodes well for Brazil 2014. They have arguably played the most attractive football so far and there is great young talent coming through the ranks. Keep Prandelli whatever happens, let him take us to Brazil glory.
Although, I hope we beat Eire and Spain beat Croatia. I think the two changes CP should make are Montelivio (he was ok v Croatia) and Nocerino in for Motta and Giaccherini and if no goals by half time take off Balo & Cassano.
on the 16th June, 2012 at 1:10pm
Bonucci - Barzagli- Chiellini
Abate - De Rossi - Pirlo - Marchissio - Maggio
Balo - Cassanno(1st half) Toto (2nd Half)

It really is that simple the rest will take care of itself. Put players that can do what there supposed to in the right places and let them get on with it! Why we have to try and re invent the wheel every time I dont know. We can still qualify and once its knock out time we step up a gear anyway. Oh and when players tire out CHANGE THEM!!!!!
on the 16th June, 2012 at 12:03pm
Pietro lets wake up here and get a dose of reality. Gila and Genoa almost got relegated. Pazzini sat on the bench. Simple fact is Italia do not have an out and out goal scorer. This is an average Italy side. Unless youngsters are allowed to develop the same will continue.
on the 16th June, 2012 at 11:59am
It just occurred to me, who the hell are Italy to accuse Spain/Croatia of fixing a game. The last time i checked it wasnt Spain and croatia all over the papers for match fixing. Spain are a damn good team and will probably beat Croatia as playing for a draw is too risky and could see them go out. Likewise for Croatia. I think Italy and Spain will go through but Italy will get knocked in the next round. But yeh you all need to stop accusing other teams of cheating, look at your own team first
on the 16th June, 2012 at 11:40am
@pietro - the only way italy could get any worse is with gila and pazzini so stop talking about them. Ive been saying since dave taylor's "the blue wall" blog that italy are a joke. yet u all tried to tell me how great chiellini is lol, look at u all now, reclining your heads back into your shells. Your optimism makes me sick, the tema is technically bad, they have the italian mentality of defence when you score one goal and so slow. You all need to support a real team, England ;)
on the 16th June, 2012 at 11:31am
apart from the wingers, it was obvious that Bonucci is out of his depth..he should be benched asa Barzagli comes back.
Prandelli should rotate more esp in terms of personnel (like Lippi in 2006)..Nocerino, Abate, Balz all should get a chance.
Next starting XI should be: Gigi- Chilleni--Barzagli-Abate-Nocerino DeRossi-Pirlo-Marchisio-Motta Cassano-Borini
How I wish Miccoli was called into this team..he'd ve fitted perfectly into Prandelli's system + he can finish too unlike Balo!
on the 16th June, 2012 at 9:45am
Apart from a couple of issues, tactically speaking the analysis in this blog is spot I don't know why so many posts are outraged about!
u need excellent wingers to make the 3-5-2 system work and it was obvious that Italy's biggest weakness was in Giaccherini and Maggio (in both matches) was as if their minds were split so didnt know whether to attack or defend and they did neither well! miscommunication between the CBs in an inherent problem in this system which the blog identified.
on the 16th June, 2012 at 9:29am
As a regular visitor to this website and the former magazine that accompanied it, I have always stated: The only writer that has a clue about the Azzurri is Antonio Labbate. A topic this sensitive (Azzurri) should not be left to Suzy, Rob. The reaction to this blog concurs with this theory! Forza Italia
on the 16th June, 2012 at 8:53am
If I or anybody for the matter can remember correctly, Antonio Cassano had a minor heart surgery & only started playing in April in which he also couldn't complete full 90min... Remind me why is he starting matches ???

The truth is the subs against Croatia was awful, Nocerino should have come on for Motta & Balo should have stayed on.
on the 16th June, 2012 at 8:03am
Pietro, If you don't like what they write on this site don't [email protected]#kn read it.
Too those who actually follow serieA your observations are so far from acurate they border on stupidity!
Now if Prandelli wants to use "juve's" tactics why not take cough Borriello I know he's not the prolic striker we crave but what I noticed in his games with Juve was his ability to hold up the ball long enough for the midfielders to move up this would be invaluable too a team that runs out of steam
Forza italia
on the 16th June, 2012 at 7:18am
I had great hope for Prandelli, I thought he actually believed what he was spouting! Time may prove this to be true but from his last performance things do not look good.
Please Mr Prandelli, do not instruct the Italian players to sit back on a single goal lead! Its a recipe for disaster. This game could have ended 3-0!!

Antonio please do not bring back Giovinco to Juve. I have no idea what people see in this guy except that he falls over to win handy free kicks.
on the 16th June, 2012 at 7:12am
Unfortunately in Italy the selection is always political and clubs like Juventus have a huge say who gets picked like in 2010, why would Giaccherini who sat on the bench for Juve be picked infront of Antonini of Milan and why is Abate on the bench when he is a much better player than Maggio. By having Giaccherini start it increases his value so if Juve want to sell him in the future with some international caps under his belt his value goes up. Why is Italy playing a 3-5-2 instead of 4-3-1-2?
on the 16th June, 2012 at 7:04am

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