Exactly 12 hours as I am writing these words people: at 20:45 Central European Time, current World Cup champions Italy will finally enter the stage of Euro 2008. Sharing the arena with them will be none other than one that the Netherlands of Marco Van Basten, one of Italian coach Roberto Donadoni’s old pals from the late 80′s AC Milan glory days.
Group C is as everyone knows, the “Group of Death”, and certainly fate could have picked an easier adversary for the Azzurri to start things up. “The Lord works in mysterious ways” as they say but whether you believe in God or not, certainly history has shown that when faced with strong opposition, the Azzurri have always brought out the best in them. Didn’t Enzo Bearzot’s 1982 team end up with Brazil and Argentina in the second group stage, beating them both to clear a path to the semi-finals and later claim glory, as Italy added a third star above their FIGC logo? Weren’t Arrigo Sacchi’s 1994 boys almost faced with elimination, as they battled it out of a group stage against modest opposition, only to magically redeem themselves in the playoffs when the adversaries really got tough, and losing only to penalties in the unlucky final we all have conveniently put aside in our memories? Finally, didn’t Marcello Lippi’s 2006 group stage also contain some very “tough nuts to crack” that the Azzurri handled brilliantly, with the final glorious outcome we all remember? It is now Roberto Donadoni’s turn…
Trust me my friends, when it comes to the Italian national team, the tougher the opponent the better. Perhaps there is something in our DNA that amplifies our performance whenever we are faced with a difficult challenge. Perhaps Paolo Rossi and Roberto Baggio needed to have that little bit of “extra stimulation”, before they finally turned the engine on and led their team to goalscoring bliss. Perhaps destiny has it written somewhere that the Azzurri don’t like easy matches, that real glory may only be achieved by overcoming difficult odds and that no victory is deserved unless you have to sweat for it. The steeper the hill the higher the effort… but the greater the satisfaction.
And perhaps in a week’s time I will be eating these very words, as Italy come out crashing out of Euro 2008, last in their group without having won a single game or scored a single goal. Perhaps.
But I doubt it… Let’s look at the match preview.
I could write pages and pages about the Azzurri’s pre-match preparation, tactics, and so forth. Someone has done it already, and it’s quality stuff. Read all of RomaChris’s work here, and expect him to have a thorough match preview up very soon.
Alternatively (less quality but plenty of useful info), you may read Gazzetta‘s English preview here.
Despite Ryan Babel‘s Euro adventure ended without even having started, and that Arjen Robben will most likely have to skip Monday’s match vs. Italy, Netherlands coach Marco Van Basten is not worried. At least not about that.
“Donadoni’s a friend” said Van Basten after Holland’s latest practice session on Sunday, “we have played many games together, first football games and now golf, so I know for a fact that he’s a fighter. He’s got very strong character, and is the type of person that always wanst to win. If he succeeds at making his team play just the way he wants it, it will be very tough for us.” “Italy” added the Oranje coach, “have fantastic experience, played a great qualifying group, and managed to keep the same core group of players that won the World Cup two years ago. We are approaching our match with them with the utmost respect. We believe we will make a good start, but it will not be easy.”
Regarding Robben’s injury, Van Basten said that Holland have often had to play without the Real Madrid’s winger during the qualifying campaign (just like many other players), and always performed well. It must said however, that despite their prestigious pedigree Holland have failed to impress during the road to Euro 2008. Their qualifying campaign saw them arrive behind group leaders Romania by 3 points, and preceding Bulgaria by a hairbreadth. The attacking power of the Oranje has historically always been impressive, but the defense’s a whole other matter, as indicated by the recent friendly matches vs. Denmark and Wales.
Formation-wise, it is likely Van Basten will utilize his trademarked & tested 4-2-3-1 formation: van der Sar in the net, behind a defense composed by (from right to left) Oojier, Heitinga, Mathijsen, and van Bronckhorst. The defensive midfield pair should be de Jong and Engelaar, supporting an offensive line composed of Sneijder, Van der Vaart and Kuyt. Up front, the goalscoring abilities of Ruud van Nistelrooy should give Buffon & friends plenty to think about.
Netherlands vs. Italy, kick-off time 20:45 CET.
As Chris says, “In Donadoni We Trust”.