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Friday November 19 2010
Decision time for Prandelli

After the drab draw and performance against Romania, Antonio Labbate has concerns about Cesare Prandelli's shapeless Italian side

Amongst the inevitable doubts after Italy's disastrous showing at the World Cup under his predecessor, Cesare Prandelli had one certainty. Desperate to field a team which contained quality, a word he repeatedly used at his official unveiling, his idea was to build a side behind an attacking tandem of Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli.

Six games into his problematic tenure, including the abandoned Euro 2012 qualifier against Serbia, and he's fielded the pair together on just one occasion – in the 1-0 defeat at Upton Park against the Ivory Coast during his first game in charge.

"My most ambitious project was and remains that of seeing Mario and Antonio play together for Italy," Prandelli reiterated this week. "Sooner or later I will realise that dream."

Going on the evidence of Wednesday night's uninspiring showing against Romania, Italy could certainly do with the Sampdoria dissenter. Omitted from the squad while his club try to rescind his contract, the Azzurri rarely threatened in attack despite the efforts of a generous Super Mario who was one of the very few positives on a wet and cold night in Austria.

It would be wrong, however, to believe that Italy's many problems would simply be resolved once Cassano and Balotelli are again simultaneously available. Putting to one side the reality that – as the last half-year has shown – the pair may not necessarily always be available, Prandelli has clearly found it difficult to construct any sort of recognised team over the last six months.

Italy may be top of their Euro 2012 qualification group by three points and, granted, we are only a handful of games into the Cesare era, but we are no closer today to seeing a stable new Italy as we were when Prandelli took over. The Coach may have dropped the average age of the squad but the performances have remained decidedly average.

He's justifiably opened his doors to new personnel to have a closer look at what is available, but there has to be a concern over the share amount of tactical systems he has used in such a short space of time. We've seen a 4-2-3-1, a 4-3-3, a 4-4-2, albeit very briefly, and a 4-3-1-2 which suggests that, formation wise at least, confusion at worst and indecisiveness at best exists in the mind of Prandelli.

The midweek draw against Cristian Chivu and Co probably didn't help matters either. The decision to start without a recognised centre-forward, in favour of two more mobile attackers, faltered and three of the four debutants – Federico Balzaretti, Alessandro Diamanti and Cristian Ledesma – looked out of their depth even if final judgment must be reserved.

The Romania tie was such a flop that the most encouraging news for the Italian national side on Wednesday was that Federico Macheda netted twice for the Under-21s during the afternoon. Especially as the Azzurri only salvaged a point once Prandelli threw on some of Marcello Lippi's old guard.

Patience was always going to be required to rejuvenate the side after the two wasted years of Lippi's second spell in charge, but that is in short supply when it comes to international football. Nobody should be calling for Prandelli's head, and nobody is, but it's time for the former Fiorentina boss to start making some firm decisions in terms of players and formations. Only then should he again start dreaming of Cassano and Balotelli.

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