Wednesday March 27 2013
Flat Italy one step closer

Three points, two Mario Balotelli goals and a Gigi Buffon penalty save – that’s pretty much all there was to shout about in Italy’s 2-0 win at Malta. Giancarlo Rinaldi writes.

If the Brazil match was an espresso, then this was camomile tea. After the nerve-jolting rush of a comeback draw against the five-time World Cup winners, came a sedate and soporific victory over Malta. Nobody will have had much trouble dozing off after events at the Ta’ Qali Stadium.

It would be hard to blame the Azzurri for that. An early penalty won by Stephan El Shaarawy and converted by Mario Balotelli gave them a quick cushion. They fluffed it up, made themselves comfortable and were rarely roused from their slumber afterwards.

That, of course, is a classic Italy against the lesser lights approach. It almost backfired when Gigi Buffon gave away a penalty – and a chance to equalise – but a strong save kept the lead intact. The crossbar did its bit too, thwarting a pretty sweet strike from Michael Mifsud.

Playing at something like half-pace, Cesare Prandelli’s men were sloppy for long spells of the first half and almost paid the price. A lack of concentration saw Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli play themselves into trouble on more than one occasion. The Nazionale composed only of Milan and Juventus players – Milentus, if you will – was singularly failing to enthuse.

Just when it looked like they might go into half-time with only a single-goal advantage, a lovely move along the Piedmont-Lombardy axis produced the game’s most exhilarating moment. Bonucci put Mattia De Sciglio clear and his cutback to Balotelli was thumped home in suitable style. It was a brief slap in the face of excitement before we could all drift off to dreamland once more.

The second half slipped away in traditional one-eye-on-the-weekend fashion. Prandelli tinkered with his formation, going from 4-3-1-2 to 4-3-3 once again, and introducing Antonio Candreva, Alessio Cerci and Alberto Gilardino to break the Rossonero-Bianconero hegemony. It did little to disrupt the air of ennui which had descended on the game.

In truth, it was hard to expect much more against a team which was happy enough to avoid heavy defeat. In addition, Italy have never been the kind of side to bother dishing out multi-goal humiliations. Those two ingredients rarely result in a game you’re likely to be told about on your Nonno’s knee.

“We knew we would get no space and we were a bit slow in our build-up,” admitted Prandelli.  “We had the ball for most of the game but we lacked a bit of intensity up front. It was important to win and we did that alright. But we need to know that when we play teams which keep it tight we have to do things quicker.”

It would be only fair to judge the two yin and yang performances of the past few days as a pair. One produced a thrilling display, the other a much-needed result. Over the course of about 180 minutes of football, there was enough to be happy about.

Balotelli further underlined his importance to this team by becoming the top scorer of the Prandelli era. Cerci emerged as an option on the right of a three-man attack. And Buffon was, well, simply Buffon.

There was more good news from the other results in the group as Bulgaria and Denmark shared the points allowing the Azzurri to stretch three points clear at the top with a game in hand. A victory away to the Czech Republic in June could bring qualification to within touching distance. Italy have shown enough in the past week to suggest that is within their compass.

The bigger picture, of course, is whether or not they have the quality required to make an impact at the World Cup next year – if they make it. The verve, dash and resilience shown against Brazil seemed to suggest that they could, but the distracted and sometimes presumptuous approach in Malta hinted otherwise. But the gut-feeling remains that this team, like so many Italian sides, needs the adrenalin boost of serious competition in order to give of its best. They know there is no time for snoozing when a Mondiale comes around. 

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Have your say...
Here's my Azzurri 23 men selection playing 4-3-1-2:

Buffon, Sirigu, Viviano

Abate, Bonucci, Chiellinj, Criscito
De Sciglio, Ranocchia, Ogbonna, Santon

De Rossi, Pirlo, Marchisio
Poli, Verratti, Florenzi


Balotelli, Cassano
Destro, El Shaarawy
on the 18th April, 2013 at 4:58am
My current Italy XI idea:


Abate, Bonucci, Chiellini, Antonelli

De Rossi, Pirlo/Montolivo, Candreva,


Osvaldo Destro

General squad.
Defense subs: Barzagli, Maggio, Criscito
De Sciglio, Ranocchia, Santon, Astori

Midfield: Aquilani,Giaccherini,Marchisio,Poli,Cerci, Bonaventura

Forwards: Totti (on current form), Di Napoli, El Shaarawy,Pazzini,Giovinco

If a problem in defense De Rossi goes in back four.
on the 12th April, 2013 at 1:13pm
In Defense: Barzagli is a decent defender but slow with ball at feet in crowd and gives ball away in dangerous areas. Ditto for Maggio but decnet going forward. In Attack - El Shaarawy not there yet but has promise and forthcoming U21'Euros will more. Balotelli has improved since Man City but still imature and it's very iffy placing all bets on him. Perhaps play him just behind a front two of Osvaldo and Destro.
The Confederations Cup is a huge bonus to find new players and probe weaknesses.
on the 12th April, 2013 at 12:46pm
As a neutral yet admirer of Italian football for its style, panache and passion, yes, it seems to me that flatness or inconsistency seem the trademark of the current squad.
Problems - Midfield: I believe with Marchisio's recent performances he has played himself off the starting XI. Montilovo, though creative, is hit and miss and doesn't link up with attack often enough. The great Pirlo is slowing down and teams are targeting him and his passes, but he's not finished yet.
on the 12th April, 2013 at 12:35pm
Dino, I have to disagree with you mate. England have far less creativity than us, but they have no difficulty putting minnows to the sword. It isn't about creativity, it's about attitude. Both Prandelli & Buffon said as much in their post match comments. I'm not saying Italy should go out & hit 6 past their opponents, just 3 or 4; & in doing so, avoid the uncomfortable situations that slender leads can cause.
on the 29th March, 2013 at 7:27pm
Agree with Dino here. Although I believe our possession game is fine, when you play teams defending with 8 or 9 men behind the ball the passes must be quicker and more one touch. You must make these defenders move at a quicker pace and when they commit to a passer, that passer then moves into a gap between other defenders, almost as Spain does. Italy has never been this way, but should begin introducing this type of attack.
on the 29th March, 2013 at 5:34pm
Italy has trouble against the "weak" teams because the weak teams defend with 10 men behind the ball as they look to capitalize on the counter attack to score goals. Italy is not as creative (or comfortable) with ball possession as some of the other stronger national teams.
This is the real reason why Italy struggles in these types of games. It has nothing to do with not having a killer instinct or not hussling enough.
on the 29th March, 2013 at 1:32pm
I just think that we should come out of the traps with greater urgency & look to kill off the smaller sides in the first half. Whilst we are only a goal ahead of the likes of Malta, Estonia, & the Faroe Islands, there is always a chance of an upset. Had Malta scored their penalty, we could have been in for an embarrassing evening, because of our casual attitude.
on the 29th March, 2013 at 11:17am
Erm this isn't Rugby, you don't get extra/bonus points for scoring 3 goals or more. A win constitutes 3 points, a draw 1 point and defeat nothing.

Like Vin Diesel said in the fast & furious "it doesn't matter if you win by an inch or a mile, winning is winning"
on the 29th March, 2013 at 9:45am
I like 433,4312, & 352. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what system you use, if the players are not up for the game. It disappoints me the way the Italian players pick & choose which games to show up in. We were dynamic against Brazil & lackluster against Malta. We need to show more hunger in every game, like Spain, & develop a winning mentality-even in friendlies. Chris I am with you on Cassano. We need his or Totti's creativity & link-up play in the final 3rd.
on the 28th March, 2013 at 10:40am
Who really cares if Italy don't thrash weak teams. Let the likes of England & Germany thrash teams if they need to. This is why Italian football make up is unique & why people envy them. Nothing better than seeing an Italy beat Kangaroo Island 1-0 & making their fans shiver, then go on to win a world cup. What other country can do this? Why change the mentality now after so many years, better we stay the same. I'm used to the anger, the nerves, the palpitations etc when comes WC.
on the 28th March, 2013 at 8:39am
My 23 men selection:

Buffon, Sirigu, Viviano

Abate, Bonucci, Chiellini, Criscito
De Sciglio, Ranocchia, Ogbonna, Santon

De Rossi, Giovinco, Pirlo, Montolivo
Poli, Aquilani, Verratti, Marchisio

Balotelli, Cassano
Destro, El Shaarawy
on the 28th March, 2013 at 7:46am
My preferred formation for the team during the confederations cup. I truly hope italy play a 3-5-2 ONLY if they use the three Juve men in the back (four counting buffon).


Barzagli Bonucci Chiellini


Abate Montolivo De Rossi De Sciglio

Balotelli El Shaarawy
on the 27th March, 2013 at 9:33pm
I want to say this respect for the other team should be shelved Italian clubs and Italy should now adopt the attitude of finishing them off full stop
on the 27th March, 2013 at 5:54pm
Why people keep mentioning Gila all the time? That's an example of typical "wooden" Italian forward when the choice used to be just among other such "wooden" blocks. Get him out of nationale as soon as possible. Current team doesn't need such guys when Italy has finally got creative front line.
on the 27th March, 2013 at 3:59pm
Adam - Cassano has only been professional when with the national team. He hasn't been sent off and I don't think he's argued with national coaches during tournaments. He dragged us to the Finals of the Euros and was applauded by the media as one of our best players. And that's when he WAS unfit, having just returned from heart surgery. He's fitter now than he was then! And this month he bossed a physical Tottenham side for OVER 90 minutes. So the 'fat' 'crazy' thing doesn't really add up.
on the 27th March, 2013 at 2:53pm
Buffon, Marchetti, Viviano, Chiellini, Ogbonna, Astori, Barzagli, Bonucci, Abate, De Sciglio, Balzaretti, Maggio, De Rossi, Pirlo, Marchisio, Verratti, Montolivo, Aquilani, Balo, SES, Cassano, Rossi (if fit) or Gila (for experience), Pazzini (Yes he's got 13 goals in 22 games for Milan!)
on the 27th March, 2013 at 2:48pm
We do seem to be lacking a right sided player for 4-3-3 so I am starting to think 3-5-2 is the way to go with pretty much Cabrelli's team. I am not sure Bonucci and Barzagli can play in back four anymore. Also it might be worth pussing SES in field to give him more chances. My squad would be.....
on the 27th March, 2013 at 2:44pm
Not a good performance last night but it was a shame SES was taken off as he was doing well with some lovely touches down the left hand side. Giaccherini was a total waste of time. Actually in fairness the Juve players (except Buffon and to a certain degree Pirlo) were the ones to let the side down. Bonucci and Barzagli were terrible in defence and Marchisio had one of his worst games. Meanwhile it seems like De Scilgio has been playing for years. What a player.
on the 27th March, 2013 at 2:39pm
Italy can adapt both 4-3-1-2 or 4-3-3 in the confederations cup. Because of the teams Italy will be facing in the coming tournament, I think Prandelli will utilize the 4-3-3 formation primarly.

Probable starting 11 during the tournament


Abate, Barzagli, Bonucci, Cheillini

De Rossi, Pirlo, Marchisio

Cerci, Balotelli, El Sharawy

Subs: Sirigu, Maggio, Ranocchia, Astori, Criscito, Montlivo, Veratti, Poli, Candreva, Osvaldo & Diamanti
on the 27th March, 2013 at 1:58pm
Chris simple fact is Cassano is fat and can not last 90 mins that plus being a bit crazy its no wonder he isn't in the squad.
on the 27th March, 2013 at 1:56pm
Prandelli claims that omitting Cassano allows for youngsters to be blooded. That’s the case with El Shaarawy and Balotelli, yes. But here are the ‘attackers’ and ‘playmakers’ that are occupying either the spot behind the strikers, the centre forward role, or wide points in a trident:
Candreva 26
Osvaldo 27
Giaccherini 28 in May
Cerci 26 in July
Diamanti 30 in May!
Gilardino 31 in July!

Cassano is only 30. How can Diamanti and Gilardino be keeping him out? Nonsense nonsense nonsense!
on the 27th March, 2013 at 12:57pm
If Verratti comes on as he should, then he could realistically replace Montolivo as he does very much the same job. I like Monty and Prandelli LOVES him but Verratti can be truly great. Marchisio is a really ncie player and at the moment an understudy for De Rossi, i think. There really is a load of talent isn't there? Which strikers would you take to Rio? i'd opt for Balotelli, Cassano, El Sha, Rossi and either Immobile, Insigne, Quags or Osvaldo - whomever is on form. you guys?
on the 27th March, 2013 at 11:47am
My squad would be buffon, marchetti, consigli, chiellini, ogbonna, roncaglia, barzagli, bonucci, abate, de sciglio, balzaretti, maggio, de rossi, pirlo, marchisio, verratti, montolivo, florenzi, diamanti, cerci, giaccerini, balo, ses, osvaldo, cassano, rossi, insigne.
on the 27th March, 2013 at 11:32am
The Confederations cup will tell us kore. This team has a lot of potential though. If not 2014, 2016 and definitely 2018 and 2020.
on the 27th March, 2013 at 11:26am
We play san marino and haiti surely we will see a goal fest in those games. If we win in czech rep in june we are there in brazil. 3 out of last 4 games at home. Hope rossi plays soon would be great to have him back playing for italy. Would be good to see pasqual get a call next time.
on the 27th March, 2013 at 11:16am
Against the likes of malta if you keep the ball and play with intensity you will score lots of goals. We just didnt do that. If we played last night like against brazil it would have been 5-0. I say this all the time but i think roncaglia would be great for us also contento who hopefully will go to fiorentina. If he plays regular football he could do a job for italy. Miss cassano so much and osvaldo last night for me would have made a difference. So much talent yet only 11 can play, not an easy job for cesare.
on the 27th March, 2013 at 11:09am
Good blog. Our mentality has to change whether its brazil or malta it shouldnt matter. 4 or 5 we should have beaten malta by in both games, its about scoring goals against the lesser teams, not just doing enough. Buffon for me is the greatest keeper of all time, can we have a blog on this topic. De sciglio was great. Dont forget last night we missed chiellini and ogbonna, verratti and cassano. Big misses.
on the 27th March, 2013 at 11:03am
Italy aren't england there was no need for us to win by 8 or more goals we got the job done and 3 points in bag. "whether or not they have the quality required to make an impact at the World Cup next year" Every one knows when it comes to tourments Italy will show up and make an impact hopefully will get a good draw to
on the 27th March, 2013 at 10:54am
Okay, here's my ultimate preferred starting line-up:



De Sciglio
De Rossi
Balzaretti/ Abate

Cassano/ Rossi / El Sha (whomever is fit and on form)

I think this gives us control and threat in equal measure.

The Juve men at the back just look happier in a 352.
on the 27th March, 2013 at 10:32am

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