Cyprus 1-2 Italy – Four Words for the Azzurri: Di Natale, and Ugly, Ugly, Ugly… (World Cup 2010 Qualifiers)

Well… you know what they say, right? “We got the three points, that’s the most important thing”. If only…

While the saying may be true, this Italy team will not get very far by playing like they did against Cyprus on Saturday. A shaky defense, a serious lack of concentration, and a weak offensive thrust are just a few of the many things that went wrong in the first competitive match of Lippi’s 2nd coming. Which just goes to show that despite Euro 2008 may be over, the Azzurri still need some effingly serious fine-tuning. Fast.

Above all, what strikes me the most is just how important Giorgio Chiellini’s absence and Andrea Barzagli’s ineptitude are becoming. The ex-Palermo center-back (on for Gamberini very early in the match) was just appalling today, and this despite the “calming” presence of Fabio Cannavaro (back from his ankle injury). Really, thank GOD for Gigi Buffon (in Superman-format today) and Antonio Di Natale, who might very well have sucked during the Euros but who has just stamped the Azzurri’s forward position with a big “MINE, DO NOT TOUCH” sign.

(From Gazzetta): Let’s not be picky here: the main take-home message today, is that Italy started their road to World Cup 2010 with a win. 2-1, 3 points, and thank you. And let’s try to put this generous and hard-working Cypriot team aside, the Azzurri played a good match and eventually deserved their wi… mwahahahhaha sorry, I just can’t keep a straight face while saying that. For those of you who aren’t following: Italy played bad.

The match’s first 20 minutes were a rare concentrate of emotions, thanks in no little part to both teams’ offensive work. Wait, let me rephrase that: thanks in large part to both teams’ defensive work (or lack thereof). For Italy in particular, I guess Alessandro Gamberini and Fabio Grosso‘s 4th and 18th minute injuries probably didn’t help (both players will have to skip Wednesday’s match vs. Georgia). What certainly didn’t help was Barzagli’s entrance… kinda like seeing the Euro 2008 opening-game disaster all over again. Brrrrr…

But back to the game. We were talking about Andrea’s shortcomings… let’s talk about Gigi’s achievements. In one word: lifesaver. Without Buffon, Italy could have easily gone 2-0 down in the first quarter, had it not been for the super-keeper’s saves on Aloneftis and Constantinou. Ironically, and as I love to say on this site (“but raté, but encaissé” remember?), Cyprus immediately paid a heavy price for their poor finishing rate: on their first shot on target, the Azzurri (i.e. Totò Di Natale) took the lead (smart acceleration to fool two defenders and low hard shot inside the left post). 1-0 Italy.

Game over? Hah! Right… not with this defense (and I’m talking about both teams). After Italy’s opener, scoring chances for Cyprus just seemed to multiply faster than horny rabbits. Buffon and Cannavaro combined to deny a double shot by Okkas and Constantinou, Barzagli continued to send shivers down Lippi’s spine (almost conceding a penalty for an obvious trip inside the box), and eventually… well, eventually the home team scored. Surprised? Nikolau got through on the right wing (yet another overlap), crossed for Kostantinou, Buffon made another miracle, but could do very little on point-blank poke of Stathis Aloneftis (Cassetti nothing more than a spectator on the occasion). 1-1 in minute 28.

The match thus proceeded to the half-time break and Lippi, despite having made two changes already, was forced to use substitution nº3 for Luca Toni. Indeed, except from the fact the Bayern Munich striker was just not “in it” today, the team crucially needed some re-balancing. So exit Toni, enter Gennaro Gattuso. The substitution definitely improved things somewhat, and also particularly seemed to please Alberto Gilardino (really not in his element on the right wing). Italy started to play better, and the Cypriots’ first 45 minutes of thunder had definitely left their mark fitness-wise (the hot weather also contributing). Coach Anastasiades pulled off his big tall striker and attempted to take cover, while Di Natale tried his luck again from mid-range (wide).

In the final 15 minutes, things went from crazy to insane. Cyprus came close (three times!) to the killer blow, especially on set-pieces (two point-blank headers by Charalambous just inches wide), and Barzagli even had the chance to make amends for his mistakes with a short-range tap-in (following a parried Pirlo free-kick), lacking power in the finish however. As for Buffon, the phrase “Thank God for Gigi” once again took a new meaning…

And then: a glimmer of light in a sky full of clouds. Second minute of stoppage time: a long kick by Buffon arrived all the way to Gilardino. The Fiorentina striker let the ball drop, backheeled it towards Camoranesi in the center, who was now wide open for the shot. Instead of shooting however, the Juve winger delicately crossed it for Di Natale on the left: volley on the run and ball in the sack. 2-1 Italy. God must still like the Azzurri…


 Cyprus football assosiation (CFA) (Greek: Κυπριακή Ομοσπονδία Ποδοσφαίρου, ΚΟΠ)
[Match Highlights]
 Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio
GOALSCORERS: 8’, 92’ Di Natale (I), 28’ Aloneftis (C)
CYPRUS (4-3-3): Giorgallidis – Nikolau, Christou, Charalambous, Garposiz – Charalambides, Makridis, Michail (72’ Yiasoumi) – Okkas (74’ Pavlou), M.Constantinou (64’ Christofi), Aloneftis. (bench: Morphis, Okkaridis, A.Constantinou, Maragkos). Coach: Anastasiades.
ITALY (4-3-3): Buffon – Zambrotta, Gamberini (4’ Barzagli), F.Cannavaro, Grosso (18’ Cassetti) – Camoranesi, Pirlo, De Rossi – Gilardino, Toni (46’ Gattuso), Di Natale. (bench: De Sanctis, Aquilani, Iaquinta, Del Piero). Coach: Lippi.


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Posted in Azzurri, World Cup 2010 |

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