Archive for June 9th, 2008

Netherlands 3-0 Italy: The Aftermath

Monday, June 9th, 2008

After a match like this, one would normally do well to take a night’s rest to carefully analyze the situation, see what went wrong, and what can be done to correct it. That is undoubtedly what Roberto Donadoni and his players will be doing over the next few days, to make sure that this debacle isn’t repeated vs. Romania.

I, on the other hand, have the luxury to live in timezone where a night’s rest isn’t necessary: at 7′o clock in the evening I can attempt to take a preliminary guess at why (oh why) Italy conceded 3 goals tonight, without scoring any.

Culprit nº1: The Defense (in particular the center-backs)

When a team concedes 3 goals, it’s pretty obvious: it is either the defense’s fault, the goalkeeper’s fault, or both. When you have someone like Gigi Buffon, you’re pretty much covered goalkeeping-wise. Gigi’s clearance on Van der Vaart’s cross may not have been impeccable (he could have played it safe by deflecting the ball into corner), you can’t really fault Italy’s nº1 for the 1-0.

Materazzi-Barzagli now… that’s a whole other story. Before tonight, these two had played together competitively only once (and that was over a year ago). After tonight’s performance, it seems fairly obvious that that one match wasn’t enough: cohesion, covering, and man-marking were all horribly off the mark today. No one without exception thought Cannavaro’s injury would be easy to overcome, but to think that his absence would weigh so heavily onto a team which, over the years, has made of defense of their strongest weapons, was absolutely unthinkable. Over the next few days, Donadoni’s biggest efforts will have to be focused on this problem, because a solution is needed. Fast.

Materazzi‘s match (much like his season this year) was mediocre at best. My guess is that he just doesn’t have reliability anymore, he has lost his place as a starter. Barzagli wasn’t all that better to be honest, but at least one step higher than his Inter colleague. Unfortunately, alternatives aren’t exactly abundant in the Azzurri camp. Giorgio Chiellini had a phenomenal season with Juve in this role, but his recent test-match with Barzagli during practice ended with his team conceding five goals. Not the greatest of omens. Christian Panucci did a little better as he reverted to center-back during today’s match, but not by a great stretch. However, Fabio Grosso‘s rising match-form (both during training and vs. Netherlands) would make this solution the most likely choice for the match against Romania.

Culprit nº2: The Offside

You can say whatever you want about the Azzurri’s performance: they didn’t play well, they made too many mistakes, Holland deserved their win, blah blah blah. The fact of the matter is that, at the end of the day, the pivotal point in this match was Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s 1-0 goal. Was it offside, was it not offside? The key element to consider here is Panucci’s position at the time of Van Bronckhorst’s shot. There is absolutely no question that RVN was a good 2-3 yards past Andrea Barzagli at that time, so the question is: did the linesman base his call by considering Panucci was in fact in play, or is he just fu**ing blind as a bat?

No doubt UEFA will come up with some kind of statement in the next few days to clear this up, but my take on the matter: Panucci was out of the playing field, not participating in the play, and therefore cannot be considered as keeping RVN onside. Big fu**ing mistake by the linesman in my opinion.

Culprit nº3: Roberto Donadoni

Well, undoubtedly the coach is going to get some blame for this. Ultimately a few of his choices directly led to the Azzurri’s defeat today, but the question is: would anyone have done differently?

Starting from the Materazzi-Barzagli pick, it was undoubtedly a mistake that backfired, but in all honesty and in Donadoni’s defense: I would have chosen the exact same men. Materazzi had the experience, the reliability with the Azzurri shirt, and seemed the most ideal candidate to replace Fabio Cannavaro. Recent tests made with Chiellini-Barzagli hadn’t exactly been promising (see above), so the only other viable alternative was to put Panucci in the center and Grosso on the left. Something which, given the Lyon wing-back’s limited contribution to the defensive effort, Donadoni was probably not ready to risk.

By the same token, the Don’s choice at picking Massimo Ambrosini over Daniele De Rossi can be defended with the same arguments: “playing it safe” vs. “taking a chance”. Ambrosini gives more to the defensive effort than DDR, and his entente with AC Milan teammates Pirlo & Gattuso gives plenty of reliability (usually) to Italy’s midfield. Faced with a tough opponent like Holland, my guess is that Donadoni wanted to play the containment card early, leaving the ace of creativity to the likes of Pirlo, Di Natale, and Camoranesi. Given how things have turned out today, this was obviously the wrong choice but once again, crucifying Donadoni for it would be unjustified.

Now with that said, let’s leave the Devil’s advocate vest on the coat hanger and look at what Donadoni did do wrong (and should take blame for). Firstly the substitutions: they came too late. Had the score been only 0-1, one could have understood the Don not wanting to take too many chances just yet. However, the Azzurri were already two goals down at the break and considerably suffering in both defense & midfield. Changes were necessary to inject some creativity and at least attempt to turn things around. Grosso’s insertion for Materazzi was a good move, but was leaving Daniele De Rossi off the bench wise? Shouldn’t have more defensive players like Gattuso or Ambrosini made way for Serie A’s best midfielder this year, perhaps even for Alberto Aquilani? Finally, was keeping Cassano on the bench till minute 75 really a good idea?

The answer to all those questions, looking at tonight’s final result, is obviously no.

Minor culprits: The Midfield and Luca Toni

Now I now what you’re going to say… “don’t you fu**ing dare touch Luca Toni, what else could he have done?!” Notice I put our beloved Bayern Munich striker in the “minor culprit” section. And the answer to that previous question is… something more. This wasn’t, by all accounts, Toni’s finest performance. He did his share for a while but at some point, collectively collapsed mentally like the rest of his teammates. That missed re-directed header for Di Natale in minute 8 and that missed shot over van der Sar in minute 75 also raise questions… you’re much better than this Luca!! We need our goalscoring machine.

Onto a “less controversial” issue: the midfield. Today, it was quite simply terrible. Not as bad as the defense mind you, but when your opponents manage to beat you in ball possession, speed, and technique quite so vividly, something’s not working right. With Ambrosini, this should have been a “contain” type of midfield. It turned out to be quite the opposite (and the defense didn’t help). Common sense suggests Daniele De Rossi should be making a start vs. Romania in 3 days’ time.

My predictive guess for Italy’s formation in the next match?

Zambrotta, Panucci, Barzagli, Grosso
Gattuso, Pirlo, De Rossi
Camoranesi, Toni, Di Natale

And I’d say the odds of Di Natale & Del Piero are about 60/40 right now…

Euro 2008: Netherlands 3-0 Italy – Azzurri Crushed in their Tournament Opener, Or: Cannavaro Where Art Thou?

Monday, June 9th, 2008

Netherlands 3-0 Italy. The Azzurri’s adventure at Euro 2008 could not have started worse. 3 goals like the 3 words which can be used to describe today’s match: offside, counter-attack, and defense (or lack thereof).

Why offside? The pivotal point of the match (Italy’s poor performance aside) was without question the controversial non-call on Ruud van Nistelrooy’s opening offside goal. Why counter-attack? The Dutch were absolutely lethal at scoring, right after their opponents had failed to do so: two out of the three goals were on a counter. Why defense? The goals conceded by Buffon today (offside excepted) can in large part be blamed on the Azzurri defense, a defense which at its first test without iconic leader Fabio Cannavaro, completely fell apart under the Oranje pressure.

At the end of the day, today’s crushing 3-0 defeat hangs like a big sword of Damocles directly over Roberto Donadoni’s head. The next match vs. Romania will be “do or die” for Italy. And yes, it’s only match 2 of the tournament.


Tactically, there were two big question marks in Donadoni’s match eve: who to pick for his midfield and who to pick for the defense. Regarding the former, the Don stayed faithful to his pro-AC Milan convictions and decided to opt for Massimo Ambrosini (over Giallorossi Alberto Aquilani/Daniele De Rossi). Ambro had been on fire during training lately and with the added contribution of Gennaro Gattuso and Andrea Pirlo, would form a defensive dam in the center designed to contain the creativity & verve of the Oranje’s playmaking trio (Van der Vaart, Sneijder, and Kuyt). Regarding the defense, the blow inflicted by Fabio Cannavaro’s injury still wasn’t fully digested, but common sense seemed to point out towards Andrea Barzagli‘s and Marco Materazzi‘s confirmation (hoping that Matrix would strike a line through his mediocre 2007-08 campaign with Inter, and return to his WC2006 goal-scoring form).

At least that was the plan.

Things started off rather well for the Azzurri, who only took 3 minutes into the game to send a clear message to van der Sar & colleagues: we’re out here, we’re hungry. Antonio Di Natale got rid of his marker on the right wing and was in a good position to provide danger, but his cross towards Luca Toni was too deep and ran harmlessly across goal. 10 minutes later, LucaBomber put his 1m94 to work and got his noggin to a Rino Gattuso cross. Wide. If only Toni had seen Di Natale’s run in the middle, completely unmarked…

That, essentially was the last bit of evidence that Italy was “alive” in the first half. The ensuing half-hour until the break was  all to the benefit of Marco Van Basten’s men, able at exploiting a greater ball possession and the speed & technique of their wing players. In minute 18, a through ball by Kuyt for Van Nistelrooy found the Real Madrid man in the clear, but the presence of Buffon destabilized the Dutch striker just enough to send him to the side and mistime his cross. Had he tumbled to the ground (Buffon had a slight touch rushing out), the Dutch would have had serious claims to a penalty. 5 minute later, RVN was into the heart of the action again, as he narrowly missed connecting with a Wesley Sneijder free-kick (Materazzi was key in deflecting the ball just enough). Italy were under pressure.

Too much pressure. In minute 26, the goal: free-kick from the left to the far post, Buffon punched the ball (falling over Panucci in the process) and the ball arrived to Van Bronckhorst. The ex-Barcelona wing-back went for the half-volley, and found Ruud Van Nistelrooy comfortably placed at the second post to deflect the ball in. The only problem? RVN was a good 2-3 yards offside and no, Panucci wasn’t keeping him on (not by lying motionless a good 6 yards out of the field). Regardless, 1-0 Netherlands.

5 minute later, another turning point of the match: a corner-kick by Pirlo found a deflection in the box, and was saved off the line by Van Bronckhorst. The Dutch defender was having quite a day today: assist provider, goal saver and (as we will see later), also goalscorer. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First, the counter: Holland in possession and out to the opposite side, Van Bronckhorst (him again) provided a long cross towards Kuyt (left to right), and the Liverpool striker’s re-directed header turned into a great assist for Wesley Sneijder (completely forgotten by the center-back pair). The birthday boy (turning 24 today) offered himself the perfect gift, and got his foot on the Oranje’s second goal of the game. 2-0 Netherlands, the Azzurri’s morale in tatters. 2-0 could even have become 3-0 before the half ended, had Gigi Buffon’s miraculous foot save on RVN (through on goal once again, forgotten by Materazzi) not kept today’s Azzurri semi-hopes alive.

Outplayed and outscored (albeit with some rather bad luck on the first goal), some drastic changes were necessary at the break for the Azzurri to turn this one around. Instead, Roberto Donadoni confirmed his 11-man line and operated the first substitution only 9 minutes into the half. A rather lost Marco Materazzi left his place to Fabio Grosso, thus shifting Zambrotta to the right side and moving Christian Panucci to the center. A change which brought back some stability in the Azzurri back-line, if only for a short while. However what was really lacking in the Azzurri today (unbelievable as it may seem) was some fighting spirit, an inherent desire to say “we will not stand by this scoreline”. Zambrotta’s blast wide in the 53rd (after a lovely dribble on Kuyt) and Toni’s weak effort in the 60th were signs some new life had to be injected into the Azzurri attack.

Trying to find just that, Donadoni inserted Alessandro Del Piero (on for Di Natale) and then later Antonio Cassano (on for Camoranesi). The Juve captain immediately got into the match, dribbling, shooting, obtaining fouls. His good effort in minute 66 was saved by Van der Sar, then Cassano gave his contribution by looping a perfect ball for Luca Toni just five minutes later, setting up the Bayern giant completely in the clear. Incredibly, LucaBomber failed the impossible and made a mess of his shot (over and wide). It seemed as though Italy were “back in it”, if not by the scoreline at least mentally. Edwin van der Sar had to summon his best goalkeeping talents to keep a Fabio Grosso 6-yard finish and a 25m Andrea Pirlo free-kick out of his goal.

The previous 10 minutes were only a glimpse though, because the Dutch midfield was just having a field day on the other end, cutting through the Azzurri defense like butter. Stemming from Pirlo’s parried free-kick, the Dutch counter-attack proved once again lethal for Gigi Buffon: the Italian nº1 did what he could on Kuyt’s mid-range effort, but on the ensuing cross Giovanni van Bronckhorst was left all alone (again) by the back-line, and comfortably added insult to injury to the defence’s nightmarish night. 3-0 Netherlands, that’s a wrap folks!


Royal Netherlands Football Association (Koninklijke Nederlandse Voetbalbond or KNVB) NETHERLANDS-ITALY
[Match Highlights]
 Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio
GOALSCORERS: 26’ Van Nistelrooy (N), 31’ Sneijder (N), 79’ van Bronckhorst (N)
NETHERLANDS (4-2-3-1): Van der Sar – Ooijer, Boulahrouz (77’ Heitinga), Mathijsen, van Bronckhorst – de Jong, Engelaar – Kuyt (91’ Afellay), van der Vaart, Sneijder – van Nistelrooy (70’ van Persie). (bench: Timmer, Stekelemburg, de Zeeuw, Robben, Melchiot, Bouma, de Cler, Huntelaar, Vennegoor). Coach: Marco van Basten
ITALY (4-3-3): Buffon – Panucci, Barzagli, Materazzi (54’ Grosso), Zambrotta – Gattuso, Pirlo, Ambrosini – Camoranesi (75’ Cassano), Toni, Di Natale (64’ Del Piero) (bench: De Sanctis, Amelia, Chiellini, Gamberini, De Rossi, Perrotta, Aquilani, Quagliarella, Borriello). Coach: Roberto Donadoni.


Netherlands 3 – 0 Italy Euro 2008 – MyVideo

Azzurri vs. Oranje… Italy’s Euro 2008 Debut is Near

Monday, June 9th, 2008

Exactly 12 hours as I am writing these words people: at 20:45 Central European Time, current World Cup champions Italy will finally enter the stage of Euro 2008. Sharing the arena with them will be none other than one that the Netherlands of Marco Van Basten, one of Italian coach Roberto Donadoni’s old pals from the late 80′s AC Milan glory days.

Group C is as everyone knows, the “Group of Death”, and certainly fate could have picked an easier adversary for the Azzurri to start things up. “The Lord works in mysterious ways” as they say but whether you believe in God or not, certainly history has shown that when faced with strong opposition, the Azzurri have always brought out the best in them. Didn’t Enzo Bearzot’s 1982 team end up with Brazil and Argentina in the second group stage, beating them both to clear a path to the semi-finals and later claim glory, as Italy added a third star above their FIGC logo? Weren’t Arrigo Sacchi’s 1994 boys almost faced with elimination, as they battled it out of a group stage against modest opposition, only to magically redeem themselves in the playoffs when the adversaries really got tough, and losing only to penalties in the unlucky final we all have conveniently put aside in our memories? Finally, didn’t Marcello Lippi’s 2006 group stage also contain some very “tough nuts to crack” that the Azzurri handled brilliantly, with the final glorious outcome we all remember? It is now Roberto Donadoni’s turn…

Trust me my friends, when it comes to the Italian national team, the tougher the opponent the better. Perhaps there is something in our DNA that amplifies our performance whenever we are faced with a difficult challenge. Perhaps Paolo Rossi and Roberto Baggio needed to have that little bit of “extra stimulation”, before they finally turned the engine on and led their team to goalscoring bliss. Perhaps destiny has it written somewhere that the Azzurri don’t like easy matches, that real glory may only be achieved by overcoming difficult odds and that no victory is deserved unless you have to sweat for it. The steeper the hill the higher the effort… but the greater the satisfaction.

And perhaps in a week’s time I will be eating these very words, as Italy come out crashing out of Euro 2008, last in their group without having won a single game or scored a single goal. Perhaps.

But I doubt it… :) Let’s look at the match preview.


 Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio

I could write pages and pages about the Azzurri’s pre-match preparation, tactics, and so forth. Someone has done it already, and it’s quality stuff. Read all of RomaChris’s work here, and expect him to have a thorough match preview up very soon.

Alternatively (less quality but plenty of useful info), you may read Gazzetta‘s English preview here.


Royal Netherlands Football Association (Koninklijke Nederlandse Voetbalbond or KNVB)

Despite Ryan Babel‘s Euro adventure ended without even having started, and that Arjen Robben will most likely have to skip Monday’s match vs. Italy, Netherlands coach Marco Van Basten is not worried. At least not about that.

Donadoni’s a friendsaid Van Basten after Holland’s latest practice session on Sunday, “we have played many games together, first football games and now golf, so I know for a fact that he’s a fighter. He’s got very strong character, and is the type of person that always wanst to win. If he succeeds at making his team play just the way he wants it, it will be very tough for us.” “Italy” added the Oranje coach, “have fantastic experience, played a great qualifying group, and managed to keep the same core group of players that won the World Cup two years ago. We are approaching our match with them with the utmost respect. We believe we will make a good start, but it will not be easy.”

Regarding Robben’s injury, Van Basten said that Holland have often had to play without the Real Madrid’s winger during the qualifying campaign (just like many other players), and always performed well. It must said however, that despite their prestigious pedigree Holland have failed to impress during the road to Euro 2008. Their qualifying campaign saw them arrive behind group leaders Romania by 3 points, and preceding Bulgaria by a hairbreadth. The attacking power of the Oranje has historically always been impressive, but the defense’s a whole other matter, as indicated by the recent friendly matches vs. Denmark and Wales.

Formation-wise, it is likely Van Basten will utilize his trademarked & tested 4-2-3-1 formation: van der Sar in the net, behind a defense composed by (from right to left) Oojier, Heitinga, Mathijsen, and van Bronckhorst. The defensive midfield pair should be de Jong and Engelaar, supporting an offensive line composed of Sneijder, Van der Vaart and Kuyt. Up front, the goalscoring abilities of Ruud van Nistelrooy should give Buffon & friends plenty to think about.

Netherlands vs. Italy, kick-off time 20:45 CET.
As Chris says, “In Donadoni We Trust”.