By Durgesh Haridas
The Azzuri had a disastrous World Cup campaign in 2010 exiting the group stage without even winning a game. Their 2006 World Cup winning coach Marcelo Lippi had selected mostly veterans leaving out young guns and it proved to be Italy’s undoing. Lippi stepped down after the group stage loss to Slovakia in 2010.
Cesare Prandelli was appointed successor to Lippi and he has given this Italian side a more attacking mindset, without compromising on their traditional strong defense. Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Nesta and Fabio Cannavaro were the more popular players of the past squads but in this new-look team the midfielders and strikers have been playing a vital role in the team’s success.
Prandelli was willing to take risks and it payed off as Italy finished runners-up in Euro 2012 and beat fellow World Cup group mates Uruguay 3-2 on penalties to secure the third place in the Confederations Cup in 2013. Calendar year 2013-14 though has been patchy and the team has not won a single game. Prandelli has retained the old guards in defence and at goal but gone for young blood on the flanks and the strike force with the likes of Darmian, De Sciglio Balotelli, Immobile and Insigne.
Italy’s road to Brazil was flawless, unbeaten while getting 22 of a possible 30 points in the qualifiers, brushing aside minnows like Malta, Armenia and Bulgaria while the Czechs and Danes could not do enough the upset the Azzuri.
FORMATION & TACTICS
Prandelli has played around with the many versions of the 3-5-2 formations and often changed it mid game to suit the situation and the opposition. The 3-5-2 formation allows Prandelli to play Andrea Pirlo as a deep lying play maker with Daniele De Rossi and Claudio Marchisio on his right and left. The essence of the team is to keep the defense and central midfield as tight as possible and create chances from the flanks with the Milan pair of Mattea Di Sciglio and Ignazio Abate as wingers.
PSG’s Marco Verrati and Lazio’s Antonio Candreva are more than capable replacements as wingers with mercurial pace and great ability to get the ball into the penalty box. The versatility of the squad to adapt to any formation and quickly settle into their roles is what makes this Italian side a hard nut to crack for any opposition, the 3-5-2 can easily become a 5-3-2 with De Sciglio and Abate falling back into their half and the midfield trio of De Rossi, Pirlo and Marchisio get into more attacking roles.
AC Milan Skipper and ace midfielder Ricardo Montolivo was ruled out of the world cup after he suffered a broken leg in a friendly against Ireland and in form striker Guiseppe Rossi who was controversially omitted from the side make up the list of dropouts. This has lessened Prandelli’s chances of playing a 4-1-2-1-2 formation and could make him settle for a more conventional 4-3-3 with Cassano and Balotelli up front.
In the strike department, apart from the established pair of Balotelli and Cassano, Torino’s Ciro Immobile who has had an excellent season with his club could start in a few games. With the majority of the defence and midfield consisting of Juventus and AC Milan players there will be a better understanding within the playing 11 as every player knows each other’s game inside out.
The heat: Apart from Uruguay, England and Costa Rica the heat will be a big hurdle the Italians will have to cross, most players are not used to playing in hot humid conditions Prandelli must use his veterans smartly and make timely substitutions to ensure fitness throughout the tournament.
Uruguay: They are favorites to top the group with England and Italy set to tussle for the the third spot but The Beautiful Game is capable of throwing surprises. Uruguay and Italy though seem to be favorites to qualify out of the group.
England- When it comes to the World Cup punters and experts seem to write of England. But this time around Roy Hodgson’s team may just be the surprise package.
PLAYERS TO WATCH OUT FOR
Mario Balotelli: Super Mario can be the ideal striker with a perfect combination of power and attacking instinct if and only if he keeps his temperament cool and composed. Famous for run ins with coaches and teammates Mario’s on and off field antics will be vital to the Azzuri’s success at Brazil.
Andrea Pirlo: Nicknamed ‘Mozart’ by the Juve fans the 35 year old midfield maestro may well be playing his last major International tournament for Italy and would love to go out with a big bang. His composure and artistic arrogance whilst controlling the midfield and setting up the strikers has been the centerpiece of the team for a few years now.
Ciro Immobile: The swift footed Torino star who scored a hat-trick in the warm up game against Fluiminense has had a great season with Torino and scored 22 goals in 33 games for his side. He could just pip Cassano for a place in the starting 11.