Posts Tagged ‘Belgium’

Italy 2-3 Belgium: Azzurrini Say Goodbye to Beijing… (OLYMPICS 2008)

Saturday, August 16th, 2008

Italy 2-3 Belgium: the Azzurrini’s Olympic adventure ends in the Quarter-Finals. And it’s such a shame too, because the gold medal (which talent-wise was well within the Azzurrini’s reach, also because Brazil/Argentina were on the opposite side of the table) will remain a mirage for Casiraghi’s boys. Dominating most of the game against a tough, organized Belgian side (who played over 60 minutes with 10 men due to Vermaelen’s early red card), the Italians could not make full use of their numerical advantage, conceding three goals in a single game (after conceding none in the group stage) and forcing Giuseppe Rossi & friends to an early departure from the tournament.

And so, after the Women’s foil team and Men’s Water Polo, Italy gets another disappointment from Beijing today, partly due to their own demerits (too many mistakes in defense, wrong attitude on the field) and partly because of controversial reffing decisions (South Korea 2002 would perhaps too risky a comparison, but let’s just say Belgium’s first goal did not cross the line and that Italy were denied two clear penalty shots in the 2nd half). I won’t play the conspiracy theory card, but surely one expected better from an Olympic tournament…

(From Gazzetta): BEIJING (China), 16 August 2008 – After getting a glimpse of gold (or at least, the possibility of playing for it), Italy failed before they had the chance to try. The Azzurrini were sent packing in the quarter-finals, despite having two penalties awarded to them and almost one hour of one-man advantage. Belgium proved to be the feared squad the Italians had anticipated: strong, intelligent and with talented players rising above the rest (in particular Moussa Dembélé, who scored two goals, and Kevin Mirallas). As much as Belgium played well though, Italy allowed their opponents too much freedom at the wrong time. And when the dagger struck, it was an ice-cold shower for the Italians… a real blow. Based on what we saw in 90 minutes of play though, it can’t be considered a scandal.

To say the least, Italy’s first half had nothing in common with the performance we saw in their first two matches, when the team had played a free albeit organised game, giving room to showcase their talent but always maintaining a good tactical balance. Today during the first 45 minutes, this proved their main falling point (alongside a serious lack of lucidity): the Azzurri were too nervous, made too many mistakes, had too many players away from their positions, and all this despite the positive turn the match had taken in minute 17.

BELGIAN RED CARD - Except for one player (Motta for De Silvestri at right-back), Casiraghi had selected the same line-up he used vs. Honduras. The rest remained the same: Viviano in goal; defensive line formed by Bocchetti & Criscito in the center, De Ceglie on the left; Cigarini in midfield with Montolivo and Nocerino on the flanks; and in front Acquafresca supported by Rossi and Giovinco. Speaking of, the Juventus player had the chance to open the score just after 6 minutes of play, but his close-range effort on a good Montolivo cross ended on the outside of the goal mesh. Eleven minutes later, the possible turning point: through on goal, Robert Acquafresca was restrained and knocked down by Vermaelen right in front of the Belgian goalkeeper. The clear goalscoring opportunity meant penalty for Italian and a red card for Belgium. Joe Red stepped up for the spot-shot, and the Azzurrini were in the lead. 1-0 Italy.

EARLY MISTAKE – Belgium were thus reduced to play with 10 men for over an hour, but right after their lead (and for a good 20 minutes after that) Italy could not benefit from the numerical superiority. The equalizing goal they conceded just 7 minutes later did not help either. Moussa Dembélé headed in a corner-kick straight at Cigarini, and although the ball had not fully crossed the line (see image below and KwSport sequence here) the linesman raised his flag to signal a goal. Hard to tell, right? In these cases, advantage is given to the defensive team… but 1-1 nevertheless.

Eventually a few minutes before the break, Italy regrouped and finally got within the Belgium danger-zone. In minute 43, Giovinco had the chance to return Italy’s lead (exploiting an error by the Belgian defence) but the Bianconero’s diagonal shot was too wide. Close, but no cigar. Actually, the ones smoking it would be the Belgians, deep into stoppage time: Kevin Mirallas received with his back to the net, and with no interference from Bocchetti managed to turn and put the ball past Viviano. 2-1 Belgium.

There was plenty of time left for an Italian comeback, but first half cold shower had left Casiraghi’s team frigid and uninspired. Despite a clear domination in ball possession, the Azzurrini didn’t get back in the game until minute 73, when Argentine referee Baldassi finally called a foul inside the Belgian box (De Roover & Vanden Borre “sandwich” on De Ceglie). Just before that, two very suspicious trips on Rossi and Abate had been virtually ignored (actually, Rossi received a yellow card for diving). Joe Red stepped up again and scored his second P.K. of the night. 2-2.

Still playing 11 on 10, the Azzurini were definitely expected to push for victory at this point but once more, Belgium managed to pull the chair out from under them. On a well-executed (or poorly defended by the Azzurri, whichever you prefer) counter-attack, Dembelé overtook four Italian players and finished with a strong left-footer inside Viviano’s net. 3-2 Belgium. Italian morale down the drain. To add insult to injury, Viviano lost his cool after the goal and was shown a red card for chasing and tugging Mirallas (who had… inadvertently…(?) thrown the ball in his face).

During the last fifteen minutes of play (including stoppage time) the Italians were eagerly trying to even the score, but now that numerical superiority was over, Belgium’s iron curtain was more efficient than ever. The Italian dream was thus (and much earlier than expected) over. On the upside, Serie A teams will be glad to get their players back. Magra consolazione, as they say…


 Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio ITALY-BELGIUM
[Match Highlights]
Belgium FA (KBVB/URBSFA: Koninklijke Belgische Voetbalbond, Union Royale Belge des Societés de Football Association)
GOALSCORERS: 18’ pen., 74’ pen. Rossi (I), 24’, 79’ Dembele (B), 45’ Mirallas (B)
ITALY (4-3-2-1): Viviano – Motta (80’ Consigli), Bocchetti, Criscito, De Ceglie – Montolivo, Cigarini (61’ Abate, 83’ Candreva), Nocerino – G.Rossi, Giovinco – Acquafresca. (bench: Dessena, Coda, De Silvestri, Russotto). Coach: Casiraghi
BELGIUM (4-2-3-1): Bailly (68’ Ma-Kalambay) – De Roover, Simaeys, Vermaelen, Pocognoli – Haroun, Vertonghen – De Mul (94’ Mulemo), Dembele, Martens (65’ Vanden Borre) – Mirallas. (bench: De Winter, Odidja-Ofoe, Ciman, Fellain). Coach: De Sart.


Italy 3-1 Belgium (Internat’l Friendly): Di Natale’s A-Rockin’, Italy’s A-Poppin’

Sunday, June 1st, 2008

Italy FA (Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio)KBVB/URBSFA: Koninklijke Belgische Voetbalbond, Union Royale Belge des Societes de Football Association

Ya, corny title but it summarizes the Azzurri’s current match form pretty well. Ok ok Belgium aren’t exactly living up to their Diables Rouges title lately, and the RAI commentators themselves repeatedly defined them as nothing more than a “sparring partner” for Italy. Still, there’s something very reassuring about the way Donadoni’s team handled the first 60 minutes of Friday’s friendly: less than two weeks before their Euro 2008 debut Cannavaro’s still rock-solid, Di Natale’s in great form, Del Piero and Cassano have plenty to say, and the Azzurri’s 4-3-3 formation is a well-oiled machine.

With 10 days left till the opening match vs. Holland, Friday’s test was very important for Roberto Donadoni, and despite all the rumours surrounding Del Piero’s & Cassano’s simultaneous utilization, the Don stuck to his trademarked and tested 4-3-3 formation, with Luca Toni up front surrounded by Antonio Di Natale and Mauro Camoranesi on the wings. At the end of the day and based on Italy’s performance Friday, no choice could have been more spot on. Compared to pre-match expectations however, two changes saw the day in the Azzurri line-up: Christian Panucci was given a start over Fabio Grosso as right-back (thus moving Zambrotta on the left), while Alberto Aquilani occupied the central midfield position alongside Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso (in-form Daniele De Rossi and usual starter Massimo Ambrosini were left on the bench). Meanwhile, the confirmation of Andrea Barzagli alongside Fabio Cannavaro should serve as almost-conclusive evidence that Marco Materazzi lost his starting role with the Azzurri.

Italy’s start of the match was, without exaggeration, thundering. Gattuso (yes, Gattuso!) had the first shot on target (deflected), shortly followed by Panucci, which eventually lead to the 9th minute opener by Antonio Di Natale. The Udinese striker summoned his best technical abilities by converting a pinpoint cross from the right wing, and slamming it home past Stijn Stijnen with a rotating short-range volley. The provider? Andrea Pirlo, who else? 1-0 Italy.

Following their goal, the Azzurri continued to have fun. Their ball possession, energy, passing game were top-notch and far exceeded the resistance provided by their Belgian counterparts. Luca Toni was doing what Toni does best, holding the ball, laying it up for his teammates, or attempting to take on the two center-backs himself (often succeeding, but being however unable to get a good shot in), all the while the constant overlaps of Panucci and Camoranesi on the right wing were creating havoc in the Belgian defense. Only Aquilani was being perhaps a bit too casual in his ball distribution, giving up the ball a couple of times and being duly reprimanded by Donadoni on the occasion. The Roma midfielder more than compensated for it however, by providing Di Natale with the one-touch assist for the second goal of the game, a low finish into the bottom-right corner that left Stijnen no chance. 2-0 Italy at the break, but not before Toni headed a Panucci cross narrowly over the bar.

In the second half, time for some Azzurri changes: Cannavaro, Panucci and Di Natale out, Chiellini, Grosso, and Del Piero in. Inspired substitutions these were, in particular regarding the latter: immediately receiving two aerial through balls by Pirlo, the Juventus striker delayed play keeping his marker occupied, then dished out a delicate no-look pass towards the right for Mauro Camoranesi. The Italo-Argentine hit a low ball between the keeper’s legs and increased the Azzurri’s goaltotal to three. 3-0 Italy = magnifico! (or in the words of Donadoni: “Perfetto!”).

Eventually around the hour mark, there was time for Antonio Cassano as well. Replacing Camoranesi, the remaining 30 minutes showcased exactly what the Italian press had so eagerly anticipated the previous week: the concurrent utilization of Del Piero, Toni and Cassano. In particular, the utilization of the Juve captain as a second striker (not as a left winger), just as the doctor ordered for maximum efficiency. During this time however, while the Azzurri’s energy-level suffered no drop in performance, their cohesion certainly did. Far from the thoroughly play-tested and over-rehearsed 4-3-3 formation, Italy’s free-flowing passing began to suffer, and the fact the Belgian defenders were getting a little too physical for general taste (on Cassano in particular) certainly didn’t help.

Eventually, the Don also brought on Marco Borriello in place of Toni (undoubtedly in order to assess the player’s level of form). Well, the early verdict on the ex-Genoa (now AC Milan) striker still raises some eyebrows, as Borriello incredibly missed an open net chance served to him on a platter by Zambrotta. Stagefright? Anyways, there weren’t many other scoring opportunities left in this game, save for a Zambrotta left-footer (parried by Stijnen) and Cassano header over the bar (set up by Del Piero). Belgium came close to goal with Wesley Sonck (header wide), then with… Wesley Sonck (parried by Buffon), and eventually found their goal through… Wesley Sonck (headed corner in the 92nd). 3-1.

The Club Brugge striker had indeed the most active of his team in trying to find the back of the net, although on the occasion there was perhaps some excessive laxness in the Azzurri’s man-marking. Since Italy were already up by 3, we’re ready to forgive them missing out on the clean sheet, but vacation’s over guys: next week’s the real deal!


 Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio ITALY-BELGIUM
[Match Highlights]
Belgium FA (KBVB/URBSFA: Koninklijke Belgische Voetbalbond, Union Royale Belge des Societes de Football Association)
GOALSCORERS: 9’, 41’ Di Natale (I), 49’ Camoranesi (I), 92’ Sonck (B)
ITALY (4-3-3): Buffon – Panucci (46’ Grosso), F.Cannavaro (46’ Chiellini), Barzagli, Zambrotta – Gattuso, Pirlo, Aquilani (75’ Ambrosini) – Camoranesi (61’ Cassano), Toni (75’ Borriello), Di Natale (46’ Del Piero). (bench: Amelia, De Sanctis, Materazzi, De Rossi, Perrotta, Quagliarella). Coach: Donadoni.
BELGIUM (4-3-1-2): Stijnen – Hoefkens (46’ Swerts), Kompany, Vertonghen, Pocognoli – Witsei (71’ Gillet), Simons, Mudingayi (84’ Huysgens) – Defour (58’ Mirallas) – Fellaini, Dembele (58’ Sonck). (bench: Renard, De Roover, De Man, Mulemo). Coach: Vandereycken.