“The revolution will not be televised,” Gil Scott Heron once famously said.
Cesare Prandelli's revolution has been televised. Those of you with access to RAI or who know their way around an internet stream will have known well in advance of Sunday night's proceedings in Kiev that Prandelli's Italy was different. They are unlike the sides led by Marcello Lippi, Giovanni Trapattoni, Dino Zoff and Cesare Maldini, unlike any Italian national side going all the way back to the days of Vittorio Pozzo for that matter.
A new philosophy was at work throughout the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign, manifesting itself in more attacking players on the field, more goals, and more passes completed. In June last year at Modena's Stadio Alberto Braglia Italy led a bewildered Estonia a merry dance, completing a staggering 829 passes.
Yet the wider world remained either unaware of, or unconvinced by, the transformation. After all, it’s one thing turning on the style against Estonia and Northern Ireland, and quite another to do it against Spain and England.
In the build-up to these championships, Prandelli was given every excuse he could have needed to revert to the old ways, from Domenico Criscito being tarred with the Calcioscommesse brush to Andrea Barzagli's calf injury to the casual demolition inflicted upon his team by Russia in Zurich, and when he introduced a new 3-5-2 formation just days before the Group C opener, it seemed he had.
But, despite being restricted to a minuscule share of possession, as opponents to Spain always are, Italy created just as many goal-scoring opportunities as the World and European champions in Gdansk and thoroughly merited their 1-1 draw. “We did not play five at the back, it was three,” the CT was at pains to point out afterwards, whilst his counterpart Vicente Del Bosque hailed the Azzurri for ‘playing us face to face’ and being ‘as daring and as good as our team are’.
However, it was not until Sunday night's quarter-final that Prandelli's revolution was consecrated, legitimised and vindicated. Italy, described as ‘eminently beatable’ shortly before kick-off by a disdain-oozing Alan Hansen on the BBC, dominated to a quite remarkable extent, with 68 per cent possession, 833 passes, 35 shots. La Nazionale have toppled other major international powers in the past, but they did it by outthinking and outfighting them, not outplaying them. England, a nation who have so often cast themselves in the role of the dashing white knight who slays Italy's defensive dragon, resorted to catenaccio.
Not only are they now in with a chance of their first European Championship win for 44 years, the Italians are enjoying the unusual sensation of receiving respect which isn't grudging, praise which isn't qualified. Prandelli - applauded into his Press conference at Casa Azzurri yesterday – is more convinced of his policies than ever.
“Did we manage a tactical revolution? We're just beginning. But we have the responsibility to try, if we don't want to get stuck watching the World Cup and the Euros on TV then we have to be proactive. Without thinking of the result from the first minute.”
Have any other full-backs spent as much as time in the opposition half as Ignazio Abate and Federico Balzaretti? Italy haven't just been slightly more offensive than they once were, statistics suggest they have been the most attacking team at the tournament, hitting more shots, 87, and more shots on target, 49, than anyone else . And yet seven other nations, including four who have gone home already, have scored more. The irony is that whereas in the past, Italy's pragmatic Coaches chose which one of Sandro Mazzola and Gianni Rivera to drop in the 1970s, and Roberto Baggio and Alessandro Del Piero in the 1990s, now that Italy have a tactician willing to flood the side with attacking talents there isn't the same abundance of them.
Antonio Cassano has had 12 shots in Poland and Ukraine, and scored once. Mario Balotelli has had 21 shots, and scored once.
What's encouraging ahead of the daunting appointment with Germany in Warsaw on Thursday is that the defence hasn't been compromised by the new approach, only Spain have conceded less. We can afford a glimmer of hope therefore, that Italy's sixth - and surely most impressive given the bold and unprecedented tactics on show - major tournament win, is possible.
Watch Serie A live in the UK on Premier Sports for just £9.99 per month including live LaLiga, Eredivisie, Scottish Cup Football and more. Visit: https://www.premiersports.com/subscribenow