Italy Euro 2012: Preview
If England fans are feeling down about the national team’s supposedly poor preparations they would do well to observe the troubles within Italian football that have hampered and overshadowed the build-up to what could be a revolutionary tournament for the Azzurri.
The on-going match-fixing scandal in Italy has directly affected the national team as defender Domenico Criscito, who is currently under investigation, has been removed from the squad, while police raided the team’s training headquarters. Antonio Conte, the Juventus manager, is also under investigation and is the club manager of seven of Italy’s squad.
Less than two weeks before Italy’s first group match against Spain the Italian Prime Minister suggested the Italian football league be suspended for two to three years. More recently, Cesare Prandelli, the Azzurri manager, has stated he would accept a withdrawal from Euro 2012 ‘for the good of football’.
If that wasn’t enough, earthquakes in northern Italy which have killed over 20 people and affected millions caused the cancellation of a friendly against Luxembourg last week. The Italians were then dismantled 3-0 by Russia three days later, with Prandelli citing a lack of physical intensity in the team.
The team will have to be up-for-it physically on Sunday if they are going to get anything out of their encounter with the reigning World and European champions. Spain are going to dominate possession and territory and this is going to be a struggle for an Italian team that does not have great defenders as they have almost always had. A 2-0 loss to Ireland in a friendly last year and the fact Italy have only won Croatia once (back in 1942) in six meetings does not bode well.
Azzurri supporters are amazingly able to cling on to an omen with a national scandal clouding the national team before an international tournament once again. In 1982, two years after the totenero match-fixing scandal, Paolo Rossi inspired Italy to a World Cup title after coming back from a two-year ban. In 2006 the calciopoli scandal saw five Serie A clubs punished, with Juventus being demoted to Serie B. In the tournament that year the Italians won their fourth World Cup. When there is turmoil, the national team come out fighting.
Italy can also look at their last performance against Spain where they won 2-1 in August last year. They even controlled the game in the first-half and survived Spanish domination in the second. Montolivo and Aquilani scored the goals which shows the potential to beat Spain is there.
Italy have also got a chance of improving their poor track record against Croatia who seem to be missing key players. They have failed to replace the talismanic midfielder, Niko Kovac, following his retirement and Ivica Olic will miss the tournament due to injury. The Bayern Munich forward has been a major part of Croatia’s recent success and they could miss his energetic presence up-front. Luka Modric is reportedly jaded after a long and exhausting season with Spurs and if he doesn’t perform to his best Croatia will find it hard to create chances in their group games.
Ireland also gained their friendly victory last year against an under strength Italian team. Six players started who have not made the squad for the Azzurri’s eighth European Championship tournament.
Prandelli has brought a different playing style to the national team and this tournament can showcase the new Italy, who only conceded two goals in all of their qualifying games despite their more expansive game. Pirlo has also been in sparkling form this season in a title-winning Juventus side and he will be able to control games for Italy with his almost flawless passing game.
An attacking, possession-based game is the new mentality and the exciting attacking players, such as, Cassano, Balotelli and Montolivo contain bags of flair, pace and creativity. A defensive-minded team for the Spain game is expected but the new Italian style may be vital to break down the Croatian and Irish defensive units.
Italy teams have been in desperate situations before but it doesn’t seem to have negative consequences on results. The players have talked about the added determination the circumstances have given them but the team is as unpredictable as ever. Whether they crash out in shame, similar to the 2010 tournament, or make a committed charge towards the trophy, as in 2006, is anybody’s guess.