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...
Hate him or luv him...he's the Super Mario of football!
Like one reader said above, we need fresher faces in the Azurri set up. SES, Insigne, Veratti, Ogbonna, Abate, De Sciglio and a whole lot of younger guys shd be given an opportunity to win a shirt in the final two games.

Forza Milano!
Forza Azurri!!
Forza Black Stars!!!
Forza Super Eagles !!!
on the 11th September, 2013 at 4:44pm

The question is not why osvaldo over giach the question why not ses??
on the 11th September, 2013 at 3:04pm
Forza Italia!!
Forza Mario!!
Forza Buffon!!
on the 11th September, 2013 at 2:46pm
As a juventus fan I only have one problem with this blog this comment "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." Minimal reward? thats what you call a season unbeaten and two seasons won?
on the 11th September, 2013 at 2:26pm
For the remaining 2 qualifiers I want to see a lot of Verrati/Insigne/El Sha/ De Sciglio (If he's recovered)/Rossi. We already know exactly what we're going to get from the likes of De Rossi, Pirlo, Chiellini, Buffon so it would be nice to see some of the younger fringe players given a chance.

I'm not so interested in seeing the older fringe players such as Diamanti, Osvaldo, Giacherrini etc because although they are talented, they do not represent the future.
on the 11th September, 2013 at 1:35pm
AS long as Balotelli keeps his temper and attitude in is the limit for him...great especially for Milan! Forza Milan & Italy!
on the 11th September, 2013 at 1:25pm
Irrespective of the chances Big Balo missed, I am becoming increasingly more confident in his attitude on the pitch. No longer do I fear a red card every time he succumbs to a strong tackle, and he now always finds himself in goal scoring positions. Also, whether it is perceived as diving or not, I have never seen a player win so many free kicks/ penalties. Opponents can't seem to resist tugging his shirt. When it's Balo stepping up to take them, this is an important factor!
on the 11th September, 2013 at 12:22pm
Good game. Italy dominated but like the blog said merited on czech errors. Czech goal was better than both Italian goal swift counter attack. Italy had a lot of favorable decisions awarded by the ref too. Osvaldo for Giach...what?? that little guy is fab! Balo...meh. Big strong lad who can hold the ball. Get free kicks and score pens. Still got a bad attitude while the rest of the squad do their best to pull together. Job done though. Here we go!
on the 11th September, 2013 at 11:48am
As for Balo. What a player. What a talent. What a penalty taker. But please please stop with the play acting and stupid tackles/bookings. He is bigger, faster and stronger than most defenders so he should use these attributes rather than constantly looking for free kicks and penalties. And he has to work on his finishing since he's not going to be gifted penalties every week. Come on Balo you can do it....
on the 11th September, 2013 at 10:01am
If Italy are going to challenge next year then I think Prandelli needs to find a formation and stick to it.Personally I do not see a place for Osvaldo since he offers very little.Rossi will hopefully be back.Insigne seems to have slotted in nicely.Maybe Cassano will get another chance. But I definitely feel it would be a huge shame and indictment of Italian football if both Milan and Italy fail to harness the talent of SES.I have no doubt he would not be facing these issues in Spain and Germany
on the 11th September, 2013 at 10:03am
Okay I had a rant yesterday evening after the game which was mostly directed at Balo. I admit it was a strange response to qualifying and I suppose with Italy and Balo the frustration is always the failure to reach potential. We are through and Prandelli has continued his relative success with Italy which it is hard to fault him on. Balo continues to score (mostly penalties) and is definitely showing a huge improvement for Italy and Milan. Many of my complaints from yesterday evening still stand
on the 11th September, 2013 at 9:59am

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