Waiting for Romania… Azzurri Changes on the Horizon

(From La Repubblica): From “Italia-Milan” to “Italia-Roma + ADP” seems the most likely change Azzurri coach Roberto Donadoni will make, as Italy step onto the Letzigrund stadium of Zurich for the team’s (already decisive) match vs. Romania. Indeed, the insertion of Daniele De Rossi and Alessandro Del Piero straight from the start seems almost a given for Friday, and could be coupled with 3 other new faces in the names of Giorgio Chiellini, Fabio Grosso, and Simone Perrotta/Alberto Aquilani.

Only 9 days have passed since Italy’s arrival in Austria and their first appearance at “Casa Azzurri” (the team’s traning ground facility at Südstad Stadion, Maria Enzersdorf). On that day the team was greeted by over 7,000 screaming fans as the Azzurri took part in their first and only practice session open to the public. Since that day however, it almost seems as if an eternity has gone by. When the team returned from their “Black Monday” match vs. the Netherlands, the World Champions found themselves rather lonely: only a few dozen people (crew, sponsor spokespersons and such) were there to provide some encouragement. Of course, the secrecy imposed around the training ground by the Azzurri staff doesn’t help to gather support (this morning, the press could witness only 15 minutes of the team’s practice session). But really, who can blame Roberto Donadoni for wanting to keep his squad isolated and fully concentrated over the next few days, as Italy prepare to bounce back from their shocking defeat vs. Holland.

The Don gathered his troops for one full hour on Wednesday morning, to further analyze want went wrong against the Oranje on Monday. The Azzurri’s overly defensive & cautious attitude while not in possession, and the resulting increase of the gap between Toni & colleagues were in the first order of business. Then, Fabio Cannavaro and Alex Del Piero underlined the importance of keeping a tight-knit group. “It is very important” they said, “not to restrict the responsibility of our loss to a few single individuals” (namely in this case Materazzi, Barzagli, and a few others). The key image to take away from the team’s morning session is that from now on, Italy’s Euro 2008 isn’t a group stage tournament anymore: the game vs. Romania will be played like a “Round of 32″ match and in case of a victory, France will become their “Round of 16″ opponent. In other words Starting from now, Italy must keep on winning. Period.

In order to achieve that, Donadoni will not hesitate at re-shuffling some key elements of his starting line-up, especially in order to facilitate recuperation from fatigue. There are two options available to the Italian coach: adapt the same tactics used in the second half vs. Netherlands (3 back midfielders, a trequartista -Camoranesi/Cassano- and two strikers -Toni & Del Piero), or copy the same formation as AS Roma (2 defensive midfielders, 3 offensive playmakers, and one striker). In either case, at least 4 or 5 players will change compared to the match vs. Holland.

To make a historical parallel: Roberto Donadoni was part of Italy’s roster (as a player) when coach Arrigo Sacchi switched no less than 5 starters between the first match (won) vs. Russia and the second match (lost) vs. Czech Republic at Euro 1996. That re-shuffling gamble cost the Azzurri their elimination from the tournament (the last match vs. Germany ended 0-0) but back then, motivations were completely different. This time unlike 1996 (where the objective was to give the starters a rest), Italy must change in order to WIN.

In the possible 4-2-3-1 formation for Friday, newcomers should include Giorgio Chiellini in the center (for Materazzi, who on top of his poor form is also struggling with a light calf strain) and Fabio Grosso on the left (resulting in the shifting of Gianluca Zambrotta to the right wing). Partnering Keyser Giorgio as central back should be either Andrea Barzagli or Christian Panucci (with the latter currently a clear favorite).

In midfield, the introduction of Daniele De Rossi is 99.9% certain, and it is very likely only one of the 3 Rossoneri (Gattuso, Pirlo, Ambrosini) will remain to complete the midfield trio (Aquilani is also waiting for an opportunity). On the out wings, Mauro Camoranesi and Alessandro Del Piero should provide the creative outlet, while Simone Perrotta could occupy the space behind striker Luca Toni (Antonio Cassano could serve as a wild card, replacing either Del Piero or Camoranesi).

Zambrotta, Panucci, Chiellini, Grosso
Pirlo, De Rossi
Camoranesi, Perrotta, Del Piero

Alternatively, a 4-3-1-2 formation could see Mauro Camoranesi operate behind the two strikers ADP & Toni.

Zambrotta, Panucci, Chiellini, Grosso
Ambrosini, Pirlo, De Rossi
Toni, Del Piero

Either way, it is now “do or die” time for Italy. The Azzurri will transfer from Vienna to Zurich on Thursday morning, and have their first practice at Letzigrund stadium at 18:00 CET. On Friday at the same time, the team will play their decisive match vs. Romania: at the end of those 90 minutes Italy will know if their Euro 2008 adventure continues.

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