Italian football was battered a bruised after the disastrous 2010 World Cup and Marcello Lippi's refusal to accept the sport had changed. Cesare Prandelli's job was not only to bring in a new generation, but also to transform the way the Nazionale approached its work. I am glad to say that with the 1-0 victory in Slovenia, we're on the right path.
The brave starting XI in Ljubljana had two attacking full-backs and not a single purely defensive midfielder. Stefano Mauri isn't the most creative trequartista in the sport, but at least he brought stability and forays forward when the team is still under construction. In future, when Daniele De Rossi has stopped hitting people in the face, we can see the old Roma dynamic of him in the middle with Alberto Aquilani pushed between the lines.
Lippi, or indeed England manager Fabio Capello, would never dream of starting with such a creative midfield in a crucial qualifier away from home. The Gennaro Gattuso age of the ‘destroyer' is over. Now every man on that pitch is required to attack and defend in equal measure. Italy can play Riccardo Montolivo without an ‘enforcer' by his side to protect him. In Thiago Motta the Azzurri have someone who brings quality and quantity to the role, going so far as to score the winner in a lovely give-and-go with Federico Balzaretti.
It is also rather sad to note the surprise with which this performance was welcomed. Gianluigi Buffon was amazed at an away win, as “Italy never used to win these games.” Aquilani impressed that one of football's world superpowers “imposed our football in Slovenia.” Have we fallen this far that Italy taking the initiative on their travels is a feat to be lauded in such terms? Evidently we have and it's the reason why Serie A sides are struggling so badly in Europe too.
Games are won and lost in midfield nowadays. Control possession and you control the match, this is what Spain and Barcelona made so very clear. Italy have the players to take this approach and I'm very glad Prandelli has the courage to prove that. Now here's hoping the club Coaches take note too.