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. 

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Have your say...
this article is total rubbish..dont know what game he watched..italy was totally dominant in the first half and should have closed it out..dont know what was said at half time but italy went into a shell and i dont know why.but they have done it before with a lead..why take balo off..he was having a great game..and montolivo is a complete waste..bring on nocerino...not convinced that the ant can compete at this level..italy's only problem is that they are not holding leads IN BOTH GAMES!!!
on the 15th June, 2012 at 3:06pm
Very heartening to read that most people consider this article to be the nonsense it is.
on the 15th June, 2012 at 3:03pm
Pietro- Not more club rubbish. Juve got coverage because they won the league unbeaten. Barzagli is injured. Pazzini and Gilardino don't even play for their clubs for goodness sake !!! Get real people.
on the 15th June, 2012 at 2:55pm
I am shocked at the article. How can you say Italy didnt play well. In the first half we were all ove Croatia. The game should have been won there and then, then the could have sat back a little more in second half. Even then, hilst Croatia applied a bit more pressure they werent creating real clear cut chances. Can you remember Buffon having to rescue us. Ubfortunately the one real chance Croatia had in that half they scored whereas Italy created some great chances and couldn't convert!
on the 15th June, 2012 at 2:53pm
Don't agree with this opinion piece. Italy's performance in the first-half was just as good against Spain. The problem is not the formation, but the fact that Italy turned-off in the 2nd half, had a mistake, and paid the price for it. They need to stick with the formation, and become more solid.
on the 15th June, 2012 at 2:26pm
I think Prandelli should have changed from a 5-3-2 to a 4-4-2 after about 60 mins because it clear Italy needed a change in the second half. I would have put on Abate for maggio and put Chiellini on the left instead of Giaccherini. I dont think Maggio deserves to start the next game he has been poor both in attack and defence so far this tournament. I think Abate offers more pace in attack and definitely more defensive cover!
on the 15th June, 2012 at 2:23pm
I dnt understand d obsession with 'the atomic ant' he isn great his first touch is horrendous
1Pazzini or Gila or both should b in squad ahead of Borini
2Nocerino should b playing and defo should have come on for Motta Montolivo is not a gritty player
3Gac and Maggio are out of there debt, Abate and Balzerati should be playing, maggio has no pace and that was evident last night

Italy are better than this website gives them credit for, also iv never seen a site more biased t 1 team, Juventus
on the 15th June, 2012 at 2:20pm
I honestly do not know what game you watched yesterday? Italy dominated the first half and should have put the game to bed. The second half was a completely different story we looked; flat, uniniterested and couldn't contain the attack coming down the flanks from Croatia. I agree our full-backs are an issue, I think Giaccherini should have come off for Balzaretti at half time as he was having a very bad game IMO. We will beat Ireland but advancing is a totally different question.
on the 15th June, 2012 at 2:17pm
Well said Pietro, lets get behind our team!
on the 15th June, 2012 at 2:00pm
Italy dominated Croatia in the first half, in every aspect. They were completely woeful in front of goal, and should have scored at least 2 total goals (outside of the free kick from Pirlo). The blame for Italy's draw is the timing of Prandelli's substitutions. It is clear, that after 55-60 minutes, the midfielders are tired and so is Cassano. Bring on Nocerino (who should be starting), and Giovinco in the 60th as opposed to the 80th, when the game is already tied.
on the 15th June, 2012 at 2:00pm
I think your last statement is...erm....wrong. Croatia started to pressure Italy only from the second half, if Balotelli had been awake, Italy could have been 2 or 3 up by half time.
Prandelli needs to be brave and use pace upfront Vs Ireland. Italy need loads of goals in this game and luck in the other game.

De Rossi
De Natale

Formation 3-5-2
on the 15th June, 2012 at 1:56pm
What a mediocre article, we can take many positives from the match, and only 1 negative, Prandellis subs. different subs in second half and we'd be here praising the team. One thing worries me is that, instead of the improbable 2-2 SP vs CR, the very probable 1-1 leaves us with the task to score 3 goals against Ireland ,which I think it's would prove to be very difficult. Croatia outplayed them but they had 2-3 lucky goals and I don't think we ever had luck on our side.

on the 15th June, 2012 at 1:56pm
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 i thought it would always be are hardest game. we swill beat ireland and i really dont think spain will settle for a 2-2 draw. we always do it the hard way it just wouldnt be us if not
on the 15th June, 2012 at 1:54pm
I must agree with Pietro Vettrainos comments. This article is a little dissapointing seeing that Italy rarely had problems against the Croats, the defense stood strong & never seemed in any danger of conceding. The goal that we conceded can be blamed on fatigue and the extraordinary pressure they piled up in the second half. I think Italy dominated play for about 70mins the remaining 20 belonged to Croatia. Honestly if we had a couple good strikers the the scoreline would have been 3 or 4:1.
on the 15th June, 2012 at 1:40pm
Fear not italy will beat Ireland if they dont then Prandelli should be axed because clearly his ideas arent being put into practie by his players not his fault
on the 15th June, 2012 at 1:25pm
Worst article iv read, were you even watching the same match?? we were comfortable they had half chances nothing more 1 mistake and we were punished, our finishing let us down, on this website you always put italy down did you ever think about jst getting behind the team rather than all your negative ( usually british media) drivel. there were mistakes made on behalf of the coach who imo is the best coach at the euros.
on the 15th June, 2012 at 1:05pm

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