“Many in the media say we are like Barcelona, but I certainly don't. We are not Barça and I'm glad you finally realised that,” declared Cesare Prandelli after Italy's dispiriting 1-0 win over the Faroe Islands. Of course, the Coach conveniently forgets he was the one who first raised the ideal of Barça and Spain for rebuilding the Azzurri. The fact remains Italy must find their own path and take from all cultures.
The Nazionale wanted a radical change and a return to quality after the dire Marcello Lippi comeback era. Prandelli promised that by scrapping midfield enforcers and urging full-backs to barrel forward, while the ‘little' front pairing of Antonio Cassano and Giuseppe Rossi encouraged playing the ball to feet. All great in theory, but it runs into the same problem Milan have had for many years – if you don't pick up the pace, it's all for nothing.
Italy started the Faroe Islands game at a cracking tempo and tore their opponents to shreds, creating a good half-a-dozen scoring opportunities in those 15 minutes. As soon as tiredness, complacency and the old Italian sluggishness set in, the match was transformed. Italian football has the quality to emulate the Barcelona model, but nowhere near the same level of energy and this is where the whole ideal collapses.
Andrea Pirlo and Riccardo Montolivo want far too much time on the ball to consider their next move, so the Faroes went to the tactic that is now becoming a cliché – pressure Pirlo and hit them on the counter-attack. It's a familiar tale from the last few years at Milan and now the Azzurri are suffering from the same major weakness. It's not just him, of course, but the whole squad has to learn that quick thinking is the secret to success. The Italian counter-attacking mentality has given players the idea they are only meant to speed up straight after winning back possession. It's not enough.
The Nazionale is representative of Serie A in general and that's the most worrying aspect. We've already seen Udinese, Palermo and Roma lose European play-offs, while Napoli need a miracle to even finish third in their Champions League group. We've already lost our fourth Champions League slot for next season and more could follow if clubs and the Azzurri don't step on the accelerator.