Archive for March 25th, 2008

Spain vs. Italy Preview – Donadoni Prepares for La Furia Roja

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

Spain FA (Real Federación Española de Fútbol)Italy FA (Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio)

Goalkeepers: Buffon (Juventus), Amelia (Livorno)
Defenders: Barzagli (Palermo), F.Cannavaro (Real Madrid), Grosso (Lyon), Materazzi (Inter), Panucci (Roma), Oddo (Milan), Zambrotta (Barcelona)
Midfielders: Ambrosini (Milan), Aquilani (Roma), Camoranesi (Juventus), De Rossi (Roma), Gattuso (Milan), Perrotta (Roma), Pirlo (Milan)
Forwards: Borriello (Genoa), Di Natale (Udinese), Iaquinta (Juventus), Quagliarella (Udinese), Toni (Bayern Munich)

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Amidst all the post-Inter-Juventus excitement, I almost forgot there was an impending Azzurri fixture scheduled for this week. For the much awaited test-match vs. the Spanish armada, Italian coach Roberto Donadoni dished out the list of his 21 call-ups earlier this week-end. The fortunate elects include Marco Borriello (thus confirming the Genoa striker in the probable vice-Toni role) but (unsurprisingly) not Alessandro Del Piero. If you ask me (and I’m saying this with great sadness), the Juve captain will have to watch Euro 2008 from his living room telly.

Perusing the rest of the list, we spot the notable “come-backs” of Juventus players Gianlugi Buffon and Mauro Camoranesi (who skipped the friendly vs. Portugal due to injury) and AC Milan’s Gennaro Gattuso (also previously out injured). No major new faces this time, tending to suggest that in essence, this will be the main core of players travelling to SwissAustria this summer. In addition to Del Piero, other notable absentees include Cassano (suspended 5 Serie A matches after his freaking-out incident) and Gilardino (out of form), but the latter may still make an appearance later in the final list. Note that in addition to Spain, the Azzurri’s only remaining international fixture will a friendly match vs. Belgium.

Roberto Donadoni, age 44

Roberto Donadoni commented his call-ups in his latest Italian Press Conference, of which Gazzetta in English has published the main contents. I’m republishing their article here, with a few edits.

Italy FA (Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio)MILAN, 24 March 2008Alessandro Del Piero‘s grin still flutters over the San Siro. His stellar work against Inter clashes a bit with yet another thumbs down from Roberto Donadoni. Alessandro and his magically tireless legs amazed everyone. Marco Materazzi was in tatters during that game, both physically and technically. Yet Donadoni didn’t even call Del Piero, but he did call Matrix. And the Nerazzuri player was there, training with his teammates at the Giuseppe Meazza grounds, before Wednesday’s friendly against Spain in Elche. Ranieri thinks Del Piero has earned a spot in the European championships, but the Azzurri team manager isn’t listening. It’s anyone’s guess whether his plans include a spot for the Bianconero at the last minute, sight unseen.

The absence of Giorgio Chiellini (spirited and in good shape) is also difficult to understand. Pointlessly complicated questions to ponder when the manager already knows what he’s going to do: his recent list of call-ups are pretty much the names going to Euro 2008 this Summer. 

Let’s say we’re getting closer and closer“, declared Roberto Donadoni yesterday, ”But no one should rest easy that they’re going to keep their jerseyThere are others who should feel like they’ve still got a shot. Just like the guys who are here“. So basically the manager doesn’t want to tip off anyone.

Giorgio Chiellini, age 23CHIELLINI – Take Chiellini for example. “Giorgio is currently one of our fittest players“, the manager said. “He’s one of the people I’m still considering, like some others. He’s doing well, even though he was a bit at fault during Maniche’s goal against Inter“. Donadoni then added, “I can’t take 26 or 27 of them. This roster already has three center-backs – Cannavaro, Materazzi, and Barzagli, not to mention Panucci“.

Marco Materazzi, age 34MATRIX AND DEL PIERO – So, even Materazzi, despite his not-so-brilliant recent performances, is a cornerstone of the Italian side? Donadoni answers reasonably: “It seemed right to take another look at him, see him with the squad again“. With Spain on the horizon, while discussing Del Piero Donadoni rejects any suggested similarities with Raúl (who didn’t get the call to his national side either). Alessandro Del Piero, age 33Instead, the Italian coach says that Alessandro is “smart to think he’ll get a spot” and emphasizes that nothing is taken for granted on the national side. However by now hypotheticals are nearing reality, and Donadoni makes that clear: “Belgium comes before the European championship. History isn’t full of headline-worthy last-minute additions. There could be one or two players who’ve never been part of the group however, that remains a possibility“. (Marco’s note: Yeah right.)

Antonio Cassano, age 25ANTONIO CASSANO – A journalist asks about the ex-Roma player, back to stunning form with the Blucerchiati recently but also suspended for 5 matches for his Sampdoria-Torino hysterionics.  ”The five days out don’t affect me – Cassano knows what I think and what I’m taking into account. But he also knows what he’s done: the suspension has penalized him in every possible way. I’ll make my decision later. For now though, I’m not considering the issue“. (Marco’s note: another player who, in addition to Del Piero, can wave his Azzurri chances bye bye if you ask me).

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Anti-Spain Line-Up

A moment from Monday’s practice session in San Siro. From left to right: Massimo Ambrosini, Andrea Pirlo, Luca Toni, Gigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro, and Daniele De Rossi.

Monday’s last pre-match practice at the San Siro (the squad is scheduled to leave for Spain at 11am Tuesday morning) gave little indication as to which players will step onto the Elche field Wednesday night. If anything though, the current Serie A form of the players involved can be used as a useful barometer. The last practice match notably (ending 1-1 with goals by Toni and Di Natale) further confirmed the excellent moment of form of Daniele De Rossi: the Roma midfielder could be the “added value” of the current Azzurri squad, especially due to the shaky conditions of Gennaro Gattuso.

A 4-1-4-1 is a valid hypothesis Gazzetta suggests, with Buffon in net and a Panucci Cannavaro MaterazziZambrotta backline. Speaking of Zambrotta, the ex-Juve wing-back seemed a little bit tired in his latest Barça performances, but should nonetheless get the start. For the midfielders the logical choice seems to be De Rossi, right behind the 4-man line of CamoranesiPerrotta (or Ambrosini/Gattuso) - PirloDi Natale, with Toni as the lone striker.

Other tactical alternatives include the more defensive 4-2-3-1 (with the Ambrosini/De Rossi interdictor duo) or the ‘decadently offensive’ 4-3-3. In terms of spectacle that wouldn’t be such a bad choice, but risks exposing the Azzurri defense to the lively Spanish attackers.
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Spain FA (Real Federación Española de Fútbol)La Furia Roja

I mentioned the Azzurri squad, seems only fair to talk a little bit about our adversaries Spain. The feud between manager Luis Aragonés and Real Madrid forward Raúl seems to continue, as the Merengues captain has been left off the call-up list once again. When asked to comment about it, Aragonés replied quite annoyed: “I don’t want to talk about Raúl, and I’d really wish the press to stop speculating on the argument“. You can’t get more clearer than that: Raúl, living room, telly, Euro 2008. In that order.

In addition to the presence now well-known stars Cesc Fàbregas and Fernando Torres, the only new presence in La Furia Roja this time was Getafe’s Ruben De La Red, a hot prospect originating from Real Madrid’s youth team. Here’s the full list of 22:
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Goalkeepers: Casillas (Real Madrid), Reina (Liverpool)
Defenders: S.Ramos (Real Madrid), Capdevila (Villarreal), R.Albiol (Valencia), Puyol (Barcelona), Marchena (Valencia), F.Navarro (Mallorca), Arbeloa (Liverpool), Juanito (Betis)
Midfielders: Fabregas (Arsenal), Iniesta (Barcelona), Xavi (Barcelona), D.Silva (Valencia), Riera (Espanyol), X.Alonso (Liverpool), de la Red (Getafe), Senna (Villarreal)
Forwards: D.Villa (Valencia), Guiza (Mallorca), Luis Garcia (Espanyol), F.Torres (Liverpool).

Javier Saviola to join Navarro, Sosa, and Lavezzi at Napoli?

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

Javier Saviola, age 26

At the cost of stating the obvious, there seems to be a very strong Argentine connection at Napoli lately. Obviously everyone remembers the late 1980′s, Diego Armando Maradonaa time during which the most famous Argentine player in history lead the Partenopei to glory, and the only two Scudetto championships of Napoli history. Since the time of Diego Maradona though, there really haven’t been any major Albiceleste players signed with the Neapolitan club (also due to their recent relegation bad luck), with the notable exception of Roberto Ayala from 1995 to 1998.

Ezequiel Lavezzi, age 22This season however, with the return of the club in Serie A and the purchases of Ezequiel Lavezzi from San Lorenzo and Nicolás Navarro from Argentinos Juniors (on top of Roberto Sosa, age 33Roberto “El Pampa” Sosa, at the club since 2004) have re-invigorated Argentine pride in Southern Italy. Nicolás Navarro, age 22Lavezzi in particular (nicknamed “El Pocho”) has been doing wonders for Napoli since his arrival, and earned comparisons with El Pibe de Oro many times over thanks to his mad skills, speed, agility, and vital goalscoring qualities.

Well, after Navarro, Sosa, and Lavezzi, there could be yet another Argentine arriving at Edy Reja’s court. His name? Javier Pedro Saviola, yet another from that endless list of players who’s been compared to Maradona, at some point or another in his career. Indeed according to the Spanish press, the Real Madrid striker was offered to Napoli directly through his agent Jorge Cysterpiller.

Javier Saviola to join Navarro, Sosa, and Lavezzi at Napoli?

Saviola, who’s been virtually finding zero space in Bern Schuster’s plans this season, will likely see his playing chances decrease even further next season with the rumored arrivals of Roman Pavlyuchenko (Spartak Moscow) and Gabriel Obertan (Bordeaux) at Madrid. As a result, the transfer to Napoli would come as a welcome move both for the Argentine player and the Italian club, especially with on-loan Marcelo Zalayeta set to return to Juventus at the end of the season.

real_madrid_napoli.jpgReal Madrid are reportedly prepared to part with Saviola for a bargain price of €5m. For a 26-year old who was litterally on fire at the beginning of the 2006-07 with the Blaugrana, I’d say that’s a very good price.

To be noted that while at Barcelona, the former River Plate striker had already been linked with a move to Italy, but finally opted to transfer to Real Madrid. According to Wikipedia, Saviola has only played 6 matches for Los Merengues this season, scoring 2 goals.