Italian progress: Group stage
Football Italia recounts Italy’s steps through the World Cup, tournament by tournament. Italy endured a shocking defence of their World Cup in South Africa, exiting at the group stage of the competition.
There have been worse defences of a World Cup, but not many. Perhaps only Italy themselves in 1950, Brazil in 1966 or France in 2002 have looked less impressive as reigning champions. The Azzurri in South Africa joined an unwanted hall of shame.
It was one of the Nazionale’s all-time lowest ebbs in the competition. Failure to qualify in 1958, elimination in the battle of Santiago in 1962 and being stunned by North and South Korea in 1966 and 2002 respectively are the only times which truly stand comparison. Contriving not to win a single game in a group comprising New Zealand, Paraguay and Slovakia must rank amongst the most miserable Mondiali ever.
The alarm bells had sounded long before a Jabulani ball was kicked. Qualification had been solid enough, but the Confederations Cup and warm-up friendly performances suggested that the pessimists were about to be proved right. Many hoped things would all fall into place when the competition started. Instead, they simply fell apart.
It always seemed like a mistake to turn back to Marcello Lippi after Euro 2008. Not that he was a bad Coach, quite the opposite, but simply that return missions rarely work in football. Nonetheless, there was a school of thought that victory in Germany had earned him a crack at retaining the title.
Unfortunately, times had moved on his absence. Many of the players who had been the foundations of that last triumph had started to crumble. The silver-haired manager was astute enough to spot some of the signs and tried to blood new players. The trouble was that in times of crisis he seemed to turn to his old stagers, a bit like a child seeking a security blanket. And it all ended in tears.
There was a dash of ill-fortune about this expedition, of course. Injury to Gigi Buffon left Federico Marchetti cruelly exposed as short of international class and the absence of Andrea Pirlo – he only featured as a substitute in the 3-2 loss to Slovakia – removed a key tactical element from the side. However, there is little doubt the squad as a whole did not do itself justice.
Of course, in the aftermath of a debacle, all the players who did not feature saw their reputations enhanced. Those who called for the inclusion of Antonio Cassano or Mario Balotelli considered it vindication for their views. Certainly, it was hard not to wish for a splash of their zest and imagination in a tournament where Italy only sparked to life in the last 20 minutes of their final group game.
The truth might have been a little harder to swallow. Even with FantAntonio, Super Mario or whoever else was missing, it would be hard to imagine the Azzurri could have got much further than the quarter-finals. It was the end of an era and the start of the Cesare Prandelli chapter.
|20-Jun-10||Italy||1-1||New Zealand||Group F|
|6||M||Daniele De Rossi||3||1|
|10||A||Antonio Di Natale||3||1|
|14||GK||Morgan De Sanctis|
Italy and France, finalists four years earlier, both left the competition at the group stage. That had never happened before.
New Zealand were the only undefeated team in the tournament after they drew with Slovakia, Italy and Paraguay.
Spain became the first side in the competition’s history to lose their opening game but recover and win the whole tournament.