Even more than a Real Madrid-Barcelona Champions League final, EURO 2012 is what every European and football enthusiast is waiting for in the coming months. We are now exactly 10 weeks away from this Summer’s 2nd-greatest sporting event (for all the love I have for soccer, even I have to admit that the Olympics come before the Euros) and on paper, Italy’s path to qualification has been nothing short of excellent. The Azzurri finished top of their qualifying group with 26 points (8 wins and 2 draws), the third-highest point total across all divisions: only Germany and Holland have fared better (though in fairness Spain, who won all their games and finished with 24 points, played two less). Italy’s press has an idiomatic expression however: gli Azzurri hanno vinto, ma non convinto. This stands for “the Azzurri have won, but not convinced”, and their outright Euro 2012 betting odds seem to agree.
Indeed, while on paper Italy’s qualifying results are among the top in Europe, there’s just something that makes me go “meh” in this Italia made-in-Prandelli. The Lombardian manager has for a long time been hailed as one of Italy’s finest promises, with good coaching stints at Parma and Fiorentina that at one point attracted the attention of big clubs such as Juventus. Throughout his club career Cesare Prandelli has always prioritized and emphasized youth development, and applied a similar policy to his national team selection process since he inherited the team from Marcello Lippi in the Summer of 2010. “Out with the old, in with the new”, with experienced yet aging players losing their spot in favor of younger, quicker, fitter colleagues.
Throughout the qualifying campaign, Prandelli has utilized a whopping total of 44 players, much higher than any of the other title favorites such as Spain (36), Germany (37), Holland (37) or France (38). Only Fabio Capello’s England comes close (and one short, at 43), which itself can be explained as a post-World Cup 2010 after-effect. Indeed, while the now ex-Three Lions manager had to test a vast array of new players (after the ones he took to South Africa disappointed so much), Prandelli’s tinkering can only be explained by the intent of creating a new Azzurri cycle (as one would expect him), and into that cycle include as many different players (from as many different backgrounds; even Serie B) as possible. “Give everyone a chance” so-to-speak…
The outcome however is rather mixed bag of results. To a good qualifying campaign, the Azzurri interspersed an interesting victory over Spain (2-1) with some rather discouraging losses during international friendlies (e.g. 0-2 to Ireland, 0-1 to Ivory Coast, Uruguay, and the United States).
At the same time, the team has struggled to produce in front of net, particularly in the last year where the absences of injured Antonio Cassano and Giuseppe Rossi have made themselves felt. There just doesn’t seem to be the same type of “hunger” in this team that we witnessed in the pre-2006 Lippi Azzurri, which went on to win 4-1 against World Cup hosts Germany a month before the tournament launched.
Can the Azzurri do it? While they do not truly possess a single-player superstar anymore, Italy’s talent pool has remained unaltered. Despite Prandelli’s renewal policy, experienced champions like Gigi Buffon, Andrea Pirlo, and Daniele De Rossi remain key elements of the team, while talented young defenders (Chiellini, Ranocchia, Balzaretti, Abate), midfielders (Montolivo, Marchisio, Thiago Motta) and forwards (Cassano, Rossi, Balotelli, Giovinco) have added themselves into an exciting mix. It hasn’t been all sparks for Italy so far, but the potential is there.
In a subsequent article, we will analyze what players are likely to feature on Prandelli’s roster during June’s tournament and what we can expect from each of them but for now, let’s just say this writer remains skeptical at our chances for success (and you will note I used the word “our” here, because despite my cynicism and harsh look at reality, I first and foremost remain a strong supporter of the Light-Blues).
Sempre e comunque, FORZA AZZURRI!!
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