Italy have defined a clear-cut strategy for their Confederations Cup semifinal match against Spain on Thursday: Out-run the World Cup holders. As far as Italy coach Cesare Prandelli is concerned,matching Spains ball possession or passing skills is impossible. So in training Monday,running took priority over tactics.
The Italian players at least the ones that are still healthy after a series of injuries sprinted from one end of the field to the other at full speed about 10 times consecutively at one point,then stopped to have their heart rates checked by team trainers.
Weve got to get it into our heads that against Spain its going to be a battle of suffering, Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said. Their ball possession is superior to ours and the Spanish are unbelievable at getting past any sort of trap set up by the opponents. Theyre excellent at holding on to the ball and attacking so weve got to try to make them run as much as possible.
Prandelli may be on to something with his strategy but it remains to be seen if his players have the stamina to execute such a plan. Japan and Brazil ran circles around Italy in the first half of their group matches and two key Azzurri players have been sent home injured since the 4-2 loss to Brazil forward Mario Balotelli left with a strained left thigh and fullback Ignazio Abate departed with a dislocated right shoulder.
Also,midfielder Andrea Pirlo sat out the Brazil match due to a muscle problem and has continued to train separately from the rest of the squad. Daniele De Rossi,another midfielder,missed the Brazil game after picking up two yellow cards. Not surprisingly,De Rossi appeared among the freshest players in training,and he and Emanuele Giaccherini were the two fastest runners in the training exercise.
But running may not be enough against Spain,who routed Italy 4-0 in last years European Championship final.
Spain is much better off than then,if you consider how easily they advanced from the group and how solid they have been, Prandelli said. They are the favorites without a doubt.
Including their 10-0 win over Tahiti,Spain outscored the opposition 15-1 in the first round. Italy,by contrast,scored eight goals and let in eight in the group phase.
Still,Prandelli does not seem concerned by his defence,even after attending Spains 3-0 win over Nigeria on Sunday.
The Nigerians created four scoring chances. In every match youre going to have four scoring chances but youve got to create at least six or seven,thats the future of football, Prandelli said. We cant use the Italian league as a model anymore.
Italy opened Euro 2012 by drawing 1-1 with Spain and midfielder Claudio Marchisio said the Azzurri were using that match more as a reference point for this game. Not just for the result but for the way we approached that match, Marchisio said. If we play that way we can create problems for them.
The 1-1 draw with Spain also marked the first time Italy used a three-man defence and it appears the Azzurri will go back to that type of lineup for this game,allowing Prandelli to add an extra midfielder.
Looking back a year later that was the better formation, Marchisio said.
This tournament is a test for next years World Cup,and Prandelli wants to return to Brazil in 2014 with 23 athletes,not just players to better deal with the heat and humidity.
And well need to give them time to prepare, he said. If you arrive with the fuel tank empty everything becomes more difficult.
Against Spain,Alberto Gilardino will likely replace Balotelli at center forward. We have to try and create situations where we outnumber the opponent, Prandelli said. I want to see Italy play like we played the second half against Brazil courageously and attacking.
Brazilian anger against the cost of staging the World Cup could undermine the argument that host countries benefit from sporting mega-events as they become too big for most countries to handle. UEFAs idea of splitting the Euro 2020 championship into mini-tournaments hosted in 13 different countries could be one of the alternatives which organisers could follow in the future,analysts say.
Brazil has been hit by a wave of nationwide protests as it hosts the eight-team Confederations Cup,a dry-run for next years World Cup which will be staged in 12 different cities. Although the protesters have a multitude of grievances,one of their main complaints has been the contrast between shiny new stadiums and shambolic state of public services including health,education and transport.
They are also angry that Brazil has broken a promise not to spend public money on stadiums,while failing to build many of the planned infrastructure projects. The stadiums for the World Cup will be built with private money, Orlando Silva,sports minister at the time,said in 2007 when Brazil was confirmed as the host nation. There will not be a cent of public money for the rebuilding of the stadiums.
Instead,building work fell behind schedule and the state and federal governments had to come to the rescue.
Meanwhile,at least five host cities will miss out on promised bus lanes,metro lines or tram services and cities are now likely to declare public holidays on match days to reduce traffic,a move which critics says reeks of typical improvisation.
What is happening in Brazil should be a watershed for FIFA and the World Cup, said Simon Chadwick,professor of sports marketing at Coventry University in central England. It should respond by working more strategically to ensure that future Cups are not just two-week showcases,but have a longer-term legacy for host nations.
It some ways,its an acid test for FIFA and its ability as an organisation to adapt,respond and learn.
FIFA has never been especially open,direct or vociferous in accentuating legacy as an element of bidding and hosting, he added. Such discussions are often centred on the number of people playing the game and the development of grassroots and competitions.
While Brazil,which also stages the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro,struggles to cope with the World Cup,other countries appear to be losing the appetite to stage major sporting events.
Switzerland,one of the worlds most prosperous countries,backed down from bidding for the 2022 Winter Olympics after residents of the proposed host cantons voted against it in a referendum.
The 2020 Olympics games drew only five formal bids,from Istanbul,Madrid,Tokyo,Baku and Doha. It is showing that major sporting events have reached a point where you need to re-discuss what is being done and what is really a legacy, said Sylvia Schenk,senior advisor for sport at anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International. Even the bidding itself has become very expensive and costs millions of euros.
UEFA made a radical move after it received only three bids to host the 24-team European championship in 2020,instead deciding to stage the contest in 13 cities around the continent,each hosting three or four games. There are reasons to commend it,most notably the spreading of financial risk and cost, said Chadwick.
Host countries needed only one stadium,in some cases holding only 30,000 people. It could be the right direction,even smaller countries usually have one stadium where they can stage two or three games, said Schenk.