Wednesday September 11 2013
Buffon, Brazil and BaloRiva?

A 2-1 victory over the Czech Republic sealed Italy’s passage to Brazil 2014. Luca Cetta wraps up a special occasion for Gigi Buffon and asks if Mario Balotelli can grab a record of his own.

Prepare your passport and travel itinerary, the Azzurri are headed to Brazil! Cesare Prandelli confirmed himself the Qualification King by taking Italy through to the World Cup with two games to spare, a first for the Nazionale. It’s a feat he also achieved in qualifying for Poland and Ukraine.

Aside from qualification and that nugget of history, the night will be remembered for Gianluigi Buffon’s record-equalling 136th cap. He now sits alongside Fabio Cannavaro as the most capped player in Italy history. To do it at his home stadium and against the country of his wife Alena made it all the more special.

There would be no Superman-esque saves like those jaw-droppers against Bulgaria required, although a swift counter-attack and cool finish from former Lazio striker Libor Kozak stunned the home side and gave the Czechs the lead against the run of play. Just as they proved in the scoreless draw back in June, Michal Bilek’s side would give Italy a fight.

Prandelli said the choice of 3-4-2-1 formation was designed to reduce vulnerability to counter attacks. While Italy were caught out for the opener, their record-maker had little else to worry about throughout, in contrast to that pre-Confederations Cup qualifier. The Czechs recognised Italy’s desire to build from the back – especially with Leonardo Bonucci, Daniele De Rossi and Andrea Pirlo stationed deep – and pressed high. It led to a rushed pass and collective gasp here and there, but there would be no milestone-ruining incident.

Italy played well enough to merit an advantage. Prandelli said he saw a ‘great Italy’. Nonetheless, it took a miscalculation to draw level. Petr Cech completely flapped at an Antonio Candreva corner and Giorgio Chiellini gratefully headed his fourth international goal into an unguarded net. It was the moment Italy needed.

Up until then it looked like the sort of evening fans inside the Juventus Stadium had become accustomed to over the previous two seasons – domination and toil for minimal reward. Mario Balotelli missed two first-half sitters in quick succession, smashing an effort from six yards on to the crossbar, and then ballooning over after a Cech spill. Yet like the regular occupants of the stadium, the Azzurri got their reward and forged ahead.

A clumsy Gebre Selassie challenge then brought Super Mario to the penalty spot, where he continued his perfect record for club and country. He sent Cech the wrong way to put Italy ahead just three minutes after Chiellini’s equaliser.

Prandelli said he was not worried despite Balotelli’s first-half misses: “I didn’t think anything, as in those moments a striker can miss. It’s a split second. I told him to stay calm, as he was doing very well.”

For Balotelli, it continued a fine scoring run. Since his goal against the Republic of Ireland at Euro 2012 – before that he had scored once in 10 appearances – the Milan striker has played a pivotal role for the Azzurri. The Irish strike was the first of 10 goals in 16 matches, all the while showing his ability to be the focal point in attack.

With 11 international goals in 26 appearances, and still only 23, Balotelli could well enjoy a prosperous Azzurri career in front of goal. It also poses the question – can he surpass Luigi Riva? The legendary striker holds Italy’s all-time scoring record, grabbing 35 goals in just 42 games. A feared striker with a thunderbolt of a left foot, Riva was part of the 1968 European Championship winning side and a runner-up in Mexico two years later.

He surpassed the mark set by Giuseppe Meazza, the iconic figure who netted 33 goals. Meazza famously quipped: “Well done Riva. He scored a lot against Cyprus and Turkey. My goals were more important.” Meazza held the record for 38 years. Riva has claimed possession since 1973. Despite a host of great strikers since, nobody has been able to reach the Cagliari idol. Roberto Baggio and Alessandro Del Piero were the closest with 27 goals apiece.

There may not be any snipes from Riva should Balotelli emulate his feat given their past together as part of the Azzurri set-up, but as Mario acknowledged in June, it will be a hard number to pass. “Riva’s 35 strikes are a lot, especially when you consider how few games you have at your disposal internationally. I’ll certainly try to overtake that tally, but it will be extremely difficult for me to do so.” The upcoming year shall provide Balotelli with more opportunities to inch ever-closer.

After a week of graft mixed with panache, Italy achieved their ultimate aim of qualification. They were even able to celebrate a milestone or two along the way. Now is the time for Prandelli and company to prepare the road to Rio.

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Have your say...
Have a question; what if Insigne & Rossi keep performing well through out the season as they are now, would Prandelli consider them both as regulars instead of Balo & Osvaldo who I think not showing their real worth up to now?! It's a good thing that Italia has qualified early to the WC'14, as this will give Prandelli the focus in real players who deserve to be regulars @ WC. I would like Balo to step up to his best as an added value to Rossi & Insigne. superb Italy will have a great WC.
on the 21st September, 2013 at 10:48am
Unfortunately, as good as super Mario is, he's unpredictable. If things don't go well early in the game he has a tendency to regress into a spoiled child and start committing stupid fouls,.that might find Italy playing with 10 men...
on the 19th September, 2013 at 9:54pm
It's time for Italy to take our 5th World Cup. It's not about talent or skill because we have that already. It's about playing with heart. If Italy plays with heart, we will have our 5th World Cup. Heart is the ingredient, and Italians have alot of it.
Forza Azzurri!
Viva Italia!
on the 17th September, 2013 at 6:48pm
Bringing back Totti would be an excellent move. He not only brings his skills and experience, but also leadership. Just his presence will make a difference on the team. Prandelli needs to give Insigne and Florenzi more playing time before WC 14. He also needs to get Criscito back in the line up. Rossi, Balotelli, Insigne, Giovinco, El Sharwwy, Diamanti, Cassano, Pirlo, DeRossi, Montelivo, Florenzi, Marchisio, Giacherini, Candreva, Criscito, Chielini, Barzagli, Abate, Bonnucci, Maggio, Buffon.
on the 17th September, 2013 at 6:42pm
Someone made a comment about not mastering a single system but this works to Italy's advantage. We are adaptable and unpredictable against our opponents. If we used one single system all tournament, other teams would be able to take advantage of our weaknesses. Italy has a very deep talent pool and I'm content with any of prandelli's selections as long as they don't include the likes of Simone Pepe or Thiago Motta.
on the 16th September, 2013 at 3:27pm

Yeah he's 28, if he's not a top player by now (which he is not) he is never going to be, and so we should certainly focus our attentions more on the younger talents, who could become top players. Classic Italian mentality, thinking a 28 year old is young. After 24 you can no longer be classed as young in my opinion
on the 15th September, 2013 at 5:50pm
@ Luca, Giachherini an older player?
on the 15th September, 2013 at 1:08pm
Italy make the world cup ahead of time, yes that is wonderful, this team however is everything but!

Lucky for Italy the rest of word football has also declined, so maybe the world cup will not be a total disaster.

"Stupid" Mario - As people already said on here is NOT a true top player comparable to any of few years ago, he is a total one man show, yet lack the quality to carry a team, even if that was a desirable way to structure one!

on the 14th September, 2013 at 2:39pm
Come on people, who cares about the if and the but, what formation etc.
Have we qualified?
Do we have spare games to test other players?
Have England qualified yet?
Are England playing in a easier group yes?
All of you stop you moaning and get supporting the azzurri as we are going to brazil.

Forza Italia until death do us part.........
on the 14th September, 2013 at 12:05pm
Prandelli is his own worst enemy. We havnt mastered a single system coz he changes it every single game. As a result we pin all our hopes on balo who is at best a good player but not world class, the defence under prandelli is shocking, our best assets come from midfield and he cant even get that rite as he puts de rossi in defence! Balo disrupts the team when he is there coz he drops to deep leaving them with no1 striker to aim for, wev made him bigger than italy, we are a team not 1man band!
on the 14th September, 2013 at 12:26am
Some of you just dont understand football! Balo is the single man upfront, so when the ball comes to him - he has to hold it and wait for help to arrive... he can't just turn and run to goal with 3 defenders on him.... so he waits for teammates to join him on the attack and draws the fouls. Wait until Rossi is in shape and can join him on the front line - that will be a lethal partnership because the defense will have to focus on 2 strikers and it will give them more space.
on the 13th September, 2013 at 10:15pm
Yeah I'm confident in his attitude, he's matured a lot since his early days at Man City, he's obviously still going to play on the edge, but a lot of the best players do. I have seen an improvement in his work rate and his attitude. I'm not saying he's a golden boy who works like a mule, but you have to credit him for trying to improve
on the 12th September, 2013 at 9:45pm
@victor - good point

@ Mustafa - agreed but whenever he does touch the ball all he does is hold it and earn free kicks. Boring football to me. Im a Milan fan but cant say that milan players have impressed me for the nazionale

@@tinobaggio agreed but he usually earns a free kick. i wasnt complimenting him.

@luca - confident of his attitude...serious? it took the ref to stand in between balo the czech

the only reason we talk about balo is because the media highlight him and hes a sulker.
on the 12th September, 2013 at 8:32pm
Italy's WC squad if I were Prandelli:

4-2-3-1 or 3-4-1-2 tactically:





on the 12th September, 2013 at 2:02pm
There are a lot of halfwit pseudo-fans on this article, like Vin and TinoBaggio.... I mean, are these guys even 18 years old ?? 12-year olds should stick to PS and 4chan, leave the important stuff like Azzurri / Serie A / Calcio to actual grownups, okay guys ??
on the 12th September, 2013 at 1:37pm
I'm not feeling osvaldo, cerci or any of the strikers prandelli has used over the qualifying stage! If cassano hits form with Parma this season then why not play him alongside Rossi behind balotelli! We know cassano/Rossi works so well as its been proven in the past before they both got injured! Last tournament for Buffon but only out of respect! Marchetti should be no2 and take the rains straight after. Defence I like the 3 at the back but not of wasting De Rossi there and bonucci is ok but I'd rather see Ranocchia play as I believe given the chance he is as good as anyone! Pirlo is still amazing but when
on the 12th September, 2013 at 9:31am
Balo is strong and can hold up the ball? He can barely stand on this pencils he calls legs. I think you should put out that crystal smoking
on the 12th September, 2013 at 9:06am
Its simple,italy with an inform francesco totti pulling all the strings can win the world cup,he is what they have been pirlo looks tired.Totti being away for so long and then getting a new chance might just give him the opportunity to shine at azzurri level like he has ALWAYS done with roma and close the book on an outstanding career!!! My favourite player of all time.
on the 12th September, 2013 at 8:16am
I am a super Mario fan, for someone to make a stupid comment of all Balo haters are raciest have a brain cell missing. Most people dislike a player for many reasons but certainly not skin colour. Whilst a great fan of Mario I can understand why people do have doubts. He has yet to prove is a Baggio etc, but he can do if he keeps his head. Jury is still out and if he proves that he can he can aid Italia all the way with the help of a TEAM not alone. Diego was the only player to take a team alone
on the 12th September, 2013 at 6:10am
ammm nobody is hating you moron . we are just being honest . the boy has no respect and he is an idiot . racist hahahah u are probably racist . nobody said anything about him being black . my best friend is black so pls shut your stupid mouth for spewing such nonsense on a good site .
on the 11th September, 2013 at 11:00pm
ballsotelli is not a good striker . he is a shadow of italys past strike force . gone are the days of inzaghi , del piero ,vieri and other real threats upfront . why does ballso always run on the wings . that is not his job . el sharawy hahahahahah i love italy but the defence and one or two players in d midfield are ok . ppl are fooling themselves if they think we are going to win wc . 2006 boys . best wc and best players . the end . im hoping rossi does well .
on the 11th September, 2013 at 10:53pm
All those hating on Balo are all racist! #Forza Super Mario. He's the royal son of Italia
on the 11th September, 2013 at 10:40pm
As usual "Super" Mario scored another PENALTY kick
on the 11th September, 2013 at 8:37pm
Played poorly Saturday but managed to win. Excellent performance Tuesday, did need a Cech error to assist on they way to Brazil. Italia deserved the win, Mario along with other played the part to aid the Azzurri to victory. I did fear after Balo reckless tackle and 2 sitters miss he was going to do something silly but whatever CP said at half time worked. Great player with the potential to lead the line for Italia to success. SES will work well with MB but is young and may need time.
on the 11th September, 2013 at 8:03pm
@Mustaafa Bahahah, you really try don't you? Get rid of all ac milan players how funny. "and the likes of them" Hold a grudge against someone that you know, not great football players. Don't be bitter little boy. SES, Balo are De scgilio ARE the future of Italy wether you like it or not. So is Veratti, Insigne, paloschi and tons of others. NOT giovinco or Natale. 
on the 11th September, 2013 at 7:40pm
Now I read we may go further backwards and bring totti and di natale back... what is wrong with prandelli? The youth of italy is being ignored by clubs and country. We in italy need to stop bringing in young africans and brazilians and use the youth on offer on our doorstep! Gabbiandini and insigne left on the bench- why... for osvaldo and gilardino. Im bored of the constant changes 442. 352. 4231 its like a lottery draw. Prandelli has been experimenting for 3 years- change players ffs!!!
on the 11th September, 2013 at 7:01pm
Balo is a good player NOT world class, he'll reach the record for 2 reasons- 1 the amount of games national teams play and 2 prandellis love afair with crap players means he is the only player possible of scoring. The way things are going balo will break the record on penalties alone. I see nothing to celebrate with this team, defence is horrendous and strikers are worse. We dont have a realiable player- balo is no baggio, riva or rossi and with a temper and attitude like his he never will be.
on the 11th September, 2013 at 6:27pm
Balo will reach the record because of the amount of games at international level in the modern game. He is also the only player that is 'capable' of scoring from CP pool; osvaldo is pants, gilardino is even worse, toni is just terrible. The weight of italy is all on balo- which I think is shocking, there is a great number of youngesters who dont get a chance yet we rely on 3 useless players and balo who is a live wire inconsistent and just not stable enough to be the man italy wants him to be.
on the 11th September, 2013 at 6:21pm
Well done boys. Now need to play the youngsters & unproven talent in last 2 games. Let SES, Curci,Verrati,Sau and Rossi play. Try Ogbonna&Astori in defense (Barzagli & DDR cannot go on forever).
Play Marchetti & Sirigiu so that we have a hardened backup to Buffon (the living legend).Not sure about bringing back DiNatale,Cassano & Totti. Serie A season will tell us more.While we may be on the 3rd grid for the WC, based on where we get seeded and drawn we can make noise like any other team.
on the 11th September, 2013 at 6:16pm
@ TinoBaggio

Big, Strong, hold the ball ? You kidding right ?
He barely touches the ball in any match he plays.

Prandelli should get rid of him. And get rid of ses, De Sciglio and the likes of them. Bring back Rossi, Giovinco, Di Natale.
on the 11th September, 2013 at 5:33pm

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