Italy and Germany went at each other with such energy and endeavour in Dortmund last night that it seemed like a continuation of the 2006 World Cup semi-final. It appeared as if the last four years hadn't happened, as if time had stood still, and the sad thing is that for the Azzurri it had.
During those wasted years, Marcello Lippi promulgated the myth that Italy's young players were weak, fragile and unreliable, that they would wilt the moment you put them on the field against international class opposition. How wrong he was.
It might have been 'just a friendly', but the visit to the Westfalenstadion was Cesare Prandelli's biggest test since stepping into Lippi's shoes. In wait lay a Germany side ranked third in the world, 10 places above Italy, a side that annihilated Argentina and eradicated England at the World Cup last summer. They have fought and won together, unlike Italy, integrating youngsters isn't a new idea or a big deal for them, unlike Italy.
However, any casual observers of last night's match wouldn't have been able to tell you what team had played together for longer. The next generation of La Nazionale went about their task with professionalism, hunger, and – most importantly – self-assurance, a healthy kind of arrogance. Daniele De Rossi and Riccardo Montolivo bombed forward with such regularity that Prandelli's 4-3-1-2 seemed more like a 4-1-3-2 at times.
Antonio Cassano in particular was a revelation. Few that have followed his career, through all its twists and turns and melodrama, could have watched Cassano finally reveal his boundless talent in Savoy blue without feeling a sense of satisfaction, elation even.
His first half performance was a thing of beauty, and it seemed like lunacy to withdraw him at the interval – until Giuseppe Rossi stepped into the breach. His 81st minute equaliser was the biggest goal of his career, but the Villarreal forward's reaction was revealing. He didn't sprint off in celebration, he scurried into the net and collected the ball, intent on winning the match.
Here was proof that Prandelli hasn't only changed the personnel and the average age of the Azzurri, but the philosophy. The new Italy isn't interested in doing the bare minimum and grinding out results like so many of its predecessors did. The new Italy doesn't see the need to be cynical with so much individual talent in its ranks, it wants to strut and swagger and win in style. The new Italy isn't afraid of anyone.