Only 17 days left to our match against France… and we’re not “there” yet. We’re most definitely not there.
After a rocky start in the Euro qualifiers campaign back in September 2006 (1-1 vs. Lithuania and 1-3 vs. France), it seemed as if Donadoni’s career was back on the right track following the convincing victories vs. Ukraine (2-0), Georgia (3-1), and Scotland (2-0). The almost embarrassing draw vs. Faroe Islands (2-1 final score) was followed by yet another away victory in Lithuania, which lead everyone to believe the Azzurri were well on their way for the big clash against World Cup finalists France. However, tonight’s result puts a serious dent in Italy’s and Donadoni’s record as the Azzurri lost 3-1 to an humble but determined Hungarian team, galvanized at the opportunity of beating the 2006 World Champions. We are talking about the 65th FIFA-ranked team here people, but one that took this game as if it was the match of their life.
Donadoni fielded a familiar 4-3-2-1 formation, the classic “Christmas tree” (Albero di Natale) that AC Milan have been known to use so often over the past years. The backline was composed of veterans Oddo, Cannavaro, Materazzi, Zambrotta, but the midfield reserved a few surprises. Out Gattuso (due to a slight muscle strain), in Ambrosini (in good form in his recent Milan outings) and Aquilani (excellent in the Super Coppa vs. Inter). Up front, the coach christened an a completely new attacking trio with Del Piero-Quagliarella ready to support lone striker Luca Toni.
Italy were the first to get dangerous, especially from set pieces (when you’ve got players like Pirlo, Del Piero, or even Oddo, keepers beware). Pirlo powered his accurate shot from long range in the 7th (stinging the hands of Sunderland keeper Fulop), then it was Del Piero’s turn to try his luck (ball deflected by the defense). A few minutes later, Hungary replied from the mid-distance, as Gera started from the right wing to come to the edge of the box, and smashed a left-footed missile narrowly wide of Buffon‘s goal.
The first half-hour of the game passed by, and Hungary’s tactical scheme was all-too-obvious: defend tightly, and hit the Azzurri on the counter. The Hungarian defense was surprisingly good at holding an airtight block in front of the box, preventing Italy’s players to seep through.
Toni tried his best to take onto the role of target man, using us his strong physique to redirect passes to the side strikers Del Piero and Quagliarella, but with little success. Hungary’s defense was iron-tight, and even timed their offside traps right (first stopping Aquilani, then forcing the ref to disallow Toni’s volleyed goal in the 27th). Talking about the Roma player, Aquilani was working hard in midfield, but was having trouble adjusting his long-range passes (often too deep) and his man-marking. Quagliarella seldom touched the ball.
So it was 0-0 at half time, with a disciplined Hungarian team, better in shape and strong in defense, and definitely more motivated than the Azzurri. The pitch condition wasn’t exactly helping Italy either (the expression “field of potatoes” comes to mind).
2nd half, substitution time: Donadoni decided to insert 4 fresh players (Inzaghi, Di Natale, Barzagli, Grosso), and off we went for the restart. Ready, set, go. Goal! 3 minutes into the half, Aquilani fought for the ball on the edge of the box, and slid a pass to Di Natale… the Udinese player stretched his leg deflecting the sphere, Fulop was surprised, and the ball snuck inside the first post. 1-0 for Italy.
The Azzurri’s lead was short-lived, because 10 minutes later Juhasz decided to finally exploit the dormancy of Italy’s defense: long throw, missed by the defenders, deflected to the left side of the penalty spot. Loose ball and volleyed shot by the Magyar player, to the right of Buffon into the net. 1-1.
No time to breathe, and Italy went down again. Cannavaro decided to forget he was voted best defender of the 2006 World Cup, and brought down Priskin from behind in the box. Penalty transformed by Gera, 2-1 for Hungary.
More substitutions: off Aquilani, in Palombo, but the play didn’t change. There was actually time for yet another Cannavaro blunder, as he lost the ball on the left wing (following a quick Hungarian counterattack) and allowed Filkor to tackle him, setting up Feczesin (who had just come in) in a cushy position with an open goal. 3-1.
The bill’s total could have been even more expensive had it not been for some good saves by Buffon (not much he could do on the 3 goals) in the final portion of the game. The only notable highlights of Italy in the last 15 mins: a free kick by Grosso from 25 yds. (inches away from the top left corner), and an excellent ball for Ambrosini inside the box (squandered with a hard half-volley miles over the bar).
There’s a lot of work to be done before September 8th, and little time to do it.
|GOALSCORERS: 48’ Di Natale (I), 61’ Juhasz (H), 66’ pen. Gera (H), 76’ Feczesin (H)|
|HUNGARY (4-3-2-1): Fulop -Szelesi, Vasko, Juhasz, Vanczak (28′ Cszimadia) – Vass, Toszer (59’ Leandro), Dzsudzsak (82’ Halmosi) – Hajnal (59’ Filkor), Gera (90’ Buzsaky) – Priskin (73’ Fecsezin) (bench: Balogh, Pinter, Toth). Coach: Varhidi.|
|ITALY (4-3-2-1): Buffon – Oddo (46’ Grosso), Cannavaro, Materazzi (46’ Barzagli), Zambrotta – Ambrosini, Pirlo, Aquilani (66’ Palombo) – Quagliarella, Del Piero (46’ Di Natale) – Toni (46’ Inzaghi) (bench: Amelia, Zaccardo, Diana, Gattuso, Curci). Coach: Donadoni.|
Three adjectives to define Italy: unfit, unmotivated, unprepared. On the fitness level especially, the Azzurri got completely dominated & outrun in the final third of the game. It’s almost too obvious that Serie A hasn’t begun yet (unlike the Hungarian league which started at the end of July), but thankfully that’s a factor that can only improve over the next few weeks.
More worrisome is the mental approach of certain of our players (defenders in particular) to this friendly game. Yes, it was only a friendly, but oh my: who kidnapped the Cannavaro that won the World Cup just over a year ago, and replaced him with the guy we saw playing tonight?. Appalling. But it would be unfair to pin this on Cannavaro alone: the whole defense decided to go to sleep in the 2nd half, allowing way too much space to the Hungary players.
However in Donadoni’s defence, aside from the Azzurri’s lack fitness & physical preparation (which can’t be dismissed, regardless of your opinion of the Italian coach), there’s also the “playing against the World Champions” factor, which lead the Hungarians to believe this was the match of their life and play their hardest… perhaps too hard (I’m thinking about all the hard tackles on Pirlo, Aquilani, and Del Piero in the first half… brrrr).
In any case, if there’s one positive note we can draw from tonight’s performance, it’s that it’s probably better for Italy’s sake that they lost (instead of tying for example). Indeed, if they had tied, the team wouldn’t be getting the much needed “kick in the butt” in the upcoming weeks. I guess what I’m saying is that sometimes losing a game can do much better for your motivation than a draw would, and it’s good that this happened during a friendly match. We can only hope the Azzurri will be ready when it counts. Appuntamento a Settembre!
Posted in Azzurri |