Archive for September 9th, 2008

Croatia 1-1 Italy: Azzurrini Through to Playoffs Round (U-21 Euro 2009 Qualifiers)

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008

Mission accomplished for Italy’s U21 team. In order to qualify for the Euro 2009 knock-out round, a win or a draw against Croatia was necessary for Casiraghi’s boys Tuesday, a task which the Azzurrini completed with brio.

In truth, the final scoreline doesn’t really reflect how this match played out, because of over 83 minutes the blue youngsters completely dominated their chequered-shirt opponents, after having taken the lead by a great Marco Motta goal in the 37th. Only a ballistic exploit in the final quarter (signed Ante Kulusic) could tie the game for the home team, but alas it was too little too late. Italy will move on, Croatia’s run will stop here.

The playoff draw will take place in Malmo (Sweden) at 12.00 CET on September 12, while the playoffs themselves will be played on October 10/11 and 14/15 on a home/away leg basis. The victors from each two-legged tie will join hosts Sweden in the competition proper from June 15 to 29, 2009.

(From Gazzetta): Compared to the 1-1 draw vs. Greece, manager Pierluigi Casiraghi decided to make several changes to his formation: take out Salvatore Bocchetti, backtrack Paolo De Ceglie in defense, and insert Antonio Candreva in midfield. Against a Croatian team overwhelmed by their opponents’ technical superiority, this was a match in which concentration and experience would be the determining factors.

After a good start to the match, the Vatreni (nickname for the Croatian football team, meaning “fiery ones”) considerably dropped in rhythm, thus allowing Italy to progressively get their heads of their shells and put the technique of Giovinco, Balotelli (and a surprise: Motta) to full use. Counter-attacks were flocking in the Croatian box, and it was only due to a serious lack of cynicism that the Azzurri could not capitalize on their domination. Until minute 37 that is…

At the heart of the action, there was once again Sebastian Giovinco: after a daring shoot-straight-from-the-corner-kick attempt, “La formica atomica” tried his luck again from the other corner and delivered a perfect cross for Marco Motta. The right-back’s header was as powerful as it was accurate: ball below the bar and 1-0 Italy.

In the second period, Croatian coach Dražen Ladić attempted to give his team a “boost” with the insertions of Tomasov and Vida, but it had little to no effect on the course of the game. The Azzurrini central defense had litterally built an iron wall to defend Consigli’s goal, while on the other end scoring chances continued to multiply for the Italian strikers. Giovinco however was having some accuracy problems today (dribbling well but shooting wide), while someone had apparently replaced the Balotelli we saw against Greece Friday with an injured dummy. Thus, Casiraghi insert Osvaldo and Dessena into the mix, and the two immediately combined to give Giovinco yet another opportunity to close the match. Once again however, the Juventus trequartista blanked out.

And so, amidst all these wasted chances (and a scary 60%+ ball possession statistic for Italy), Croatia managed to grab the equalizer. Almost fortuitously I might add, stemming from a free-kick and a general massive brain-freeze of the Azzurrini defense. The 1-1 was however too late. Casiraghi replaced Giovinco with Bolzoni, and held the fort until the full-time whistle. The next rendez-vous will be on September 12, to find out the Azzurrini’s playoff round opponent.

Ten group winners:
Italy, Turkey, England, Spain, Switzerland, Finland, Austria, Serbia, Germany, Wales.

Four best runners-up:
Belarus, Israel, France, Denmark.


Croatian Football Federation (Croatian: Hrvatski Nogometni Savez - HNS)
[Match Highlights]
 Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio
GOALSCORERS: 37′ Motta (I), 83‘ Kulusic (C).
CROATIA (4-4-2): Kelava – Simek (46’ Vida), Kulusic, Ipsa, Ilicevic – Jajalo, Ljubicic (46’ Tomasov), Pamic, Badelj – Brezovec (63’ Krizman), Smrekar. (bench: Jezina, Dinjar, Maloca, Prahic). Coach: Ladic.
ITALY (4-4-1-1): Consigli – Motta, Andreolli, Criscito, De Ceglie – Candreva (75’ Morosini), Dessena, Cigarini, Marchisio – Giovinco (84’ Bolzoni) – Balotelli (59’ Osvaldo). (bench: Sirigu, Bocchetti, Ranocchia, Paolucci). Coach: Casiraghi.


Waiting for Georgia: Azzurri Looking at Major Defense Overhaul

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008

I will make many changessaid Lippi after the Cyprus game. And that’s exactly what we’re expecting on Wednesday, when Italy receives Georgia at Stadio Friuli of Udine. Particularly we are looking at a big overhaul in defense, because the zone of the field which historically has made them famous is looking very shaky in the Azzurri at the moment.

And who would have thought? In their last two official matches (one unfriendly and one friendly also unfriendly) the Azzurri have conceded 3 goals, resulting in an alarming 1.5 goals per game average. In fact that statistic could have been even worse, had it not been for a certain Gianluigi Buffon keeping guard between the posts (especially on Saturday). Kinda ironic when you consider that not so long ago (ok, 2 years) the team coached by the same man conceded 2 goals in the entire World Cup tournament, one of them being an own goal and the other a penalty kick. Is it really time to sound the alarm, or do the Azzurri have extenuating circumstances?

The answer to that question is: well, a little bit of both. Certainly, the many injuries aren’t helping: Fabio Cannavaro, Giorgio Chiellini, and Marco Materazzi… these are just three of the names that missed out on one (if not both) of the matches in question (and you can say all you want about Matrix’s crappy Euro performance, he was solid against Sampdoria after his return from injury). In particular, the absence of Chiellini (aka the “Azzurri Euro 2008 Rock”) is currently the most problematic, as Saturday proved that even the presence of Fabio Cannavaro can be nullified when he is paired with someone like Andrea Barzagli in calamity-mode.

So, until Keyser Giorgio gets back (sometime in early October) what’s the plan for Wednesday? Andrea Dossena and Nicola Legrottaglie, that’s what.

Andrea Dossena

A skilled wing-back with fast pace and good ball control skills, Dossena seems to be the perfect replacement for one of the Berlin heroes, and most definitely a starter for the Azzurri in the future. Beginning his career at Verona as a youth player in 2001, he was soon promoted to the senior squad in which he totalled 4 seasons before being brought to Serie A by Udinese (2005). The Bianconeri immediately loaned him to Treviso for a year, after which the player returned to Friuli in the 2006-07 season, was given the nº8 jersey and made 63 appearances in the following two years, scoring 2 league goals along the way.

Dossena has only been in England since July (being bought as a direct replacement for John Arne Riise), but he already has a sense of the difference between playing in the Premier League and plying his trade in Serie A. “The Premier League is more advanced in terms of atmosphere and culture, but the Italian way of life is better. Violence however, must disappear from our stadiums. Through a zero tolerance policy or other means, but it must go“.

Replacing the injured Fabio Grosso, the Liverpool defender claims this new starting role is a bittersweet experience. “I’m happy to be in the squad but not as Fabio’s expense,” said the ex-Udinese man. “However, I had always hoped to be playing in this match ever since the venue was first revealed. My old Udinese supporters will give us a big boost, especially when our fitness level drops.

Nicola Legrottaglie

As for Legrottaglie, the Juve center-back has been one the nicest surprises of the 2007-08 season. Rising to defensive stardom during his time at Chievo (2002-03), Legrottaglie was bought by Juventus in 2003 to be the natural heir of Paolo Montero. A severe drop in form however pushed the player to the sidelines (and to a series of unproductive loan spells), at which point his Bianconeri career seeemed to have reached a dead-end, as not even Juve’s 2006-07 Serie B season was enough to promote him to a regular starting role.

In 2007-08, Legrottaglie started where he left off the previous season: on the subs bench. However, after the serious injury suffered by new signing Jorge Andrade, he was promoted to the starting eleven for the game against Reggina (September 26), and contributed to the final 4-0 scoreline with a goal. Until the season’s end Legrottaglie paired with Giorgio Chiellini in a starting center-back role, forming one of the best defensive partnerships of the year as Juve conceded only 9 goals in 14 games.

Legrottaglie has openly admitted he owes his recent “transformation” to religion. Indeed since “finding the faith” again, the player’s performances have radically improved: his behaviour on the field is more calm, he gets into less arguments with opposing players, (the number of his yellow cards have also substantially decreased) and more importantly: he’s become reliable. Oh, and also: apparently he hasn’t had sex for over 2 years… Whatever helps, right? I mean, “belonging to Jesus” didn’t stop Kakà from winning the Ballon d’Or, so…

The Anti-Georgia Fantastic Four

Bottom line: we are looking at a Zambrotta, Cannavaro, Legrottaglie, Dossena Azzurri backline for Wednesday.

Gianluca Zambrotta (age 31)Fabio Cannavaro (age 34)Nicola Legrottaglie (age 31)Andrea Dossena (age 26)

As we await the return of Giorgio, let’s hope it will be enough…