Our European guru educates and enlightens
There’ll be a national inquest, but no tomatoes will be thrown. The Azzurri’s Euro 2008 campaign ended in disappointment but not disgrace. That distinction may not, though, be enough to save Roberto Donadoni.
Italy’s quarter-final exit can be boiled down to a few random, misleading numbers, but no matter how you crunch them one thing is clear: Italy’s record in this tournament stinks almost as much as that abandoned garbage in Naples.
They didn’t even qualify in 1984 and 1992 and they have won it just once, on home soil, back in 1968 winning the semi-final with the toss of a coin and needing a replay to beat Yugoslavia in the final.Anyway, for those who like nothing better than a bit of schadenfreude and for masochistic calcio fans, here are the vital statistics.0 Number of goals scored by Italy from open play. Also the number of goals scored by front man Luca Toni. And, judging from Roberto Donadoni’s team selection against Spain, the number of Italian midfielders who can provide a creative spark in the absence of Andrea Pirlo.1 - Italian midfielder who was unlucky to be booked. Andrea Pirlo was yellow carded for committing a foul so an injured teammate could get attention. Minutes later, with sublime inconsistency, Slovakian referee Lubos Michel stopped play when a French player was down. This sidelined Pirlo against Spain but I am in no way suggesting there was a conspiracy or that, with him, Italy would have won. His set pieces – that penalty against France apart – were a bit dodgy this tournament. 2 - The most shots any Italian player had on target during Euro 2008, penalties missed by the Azzurri in the shoot-out against Spain and goals scored by Roma’s ‘attacking midfielder’ Simone Perrotta in 44 appearances for Italy. 3 - Strikers Donadoni usually fielded before the tournament in an unusual – for an Italian coach – 4-3-3 formation. After the debacle against Holland, he switched to 4-3-1-2 although, against Spain, that probably deteriorated into something much duller.4 - Central midfielders Donadoni deployed to stifle Spain. It worked until the shoot-out. But it had Alberto Costa from Corriere della Sera lambasting Donadoni for Italy’s “demoralising scarcity” and for “resurrecting elements of the old catenaccio”.
With Spain’s central defensive partnership – Puyol and Marchena – looking creaky, it seemed a shame not to test their mobility in some more imaginative way than simply lobbing up high balls for Toni to get on the end of. Mind you, visitors to the BBC’s Euro 2008 website gave Puyol an average rating of 6.91 which just shows you can fool some of the people a lot of the time if you look grimly determined.
Four was also the number worn by Juve defender Giorgio Chellini, one of the few Azzurri players to enhance their reputation in this tournament. If Andrea Barzagli is the new Cannavaro, Chellini is the new Materazzi – and yes that is intended to be a compliment.
Chiellini: Crippled Cannavaro but was one of better performers
7 - Italian strikers who failed to score at Euro 2008. It is easy to blame it all on Toni but hardly fair. Still, Pippo Inzaghi might expect a call from Donadoni or his successor. 10 - Shirt number of Daniele De Rossi who looked pretty good in his three games and didn’t use his elbow inappropriately once.14 - The number of Toni’s shots that missed the target during Euro 2008. Maybe Genoa’s Marco Borriello might have been worth a try. He looked sharp in training.17 - An unlucky number in Italy, although Spain’s number 17, Guiza, missed his spot-kick in the shoot-out.29.15 - The average age of Italy’s Euro 2008 squad – almost four years older than Spain’s average age – which might explain why Donadoni said his players were “shattered” by the time the shoot-out started.38 - Years since Italy last lost by a three-goal margin in a major tournament – they were stuffed 4-1 by the Brazil of Pele, Jairzinho, Rivelino, Carlos Alberto et al in the 1970 World Cup final.
Brazil outclass the Azzurri 4-1 in 1970 World Cup final
42 - Per cent chance that Italy won’t make it through the group stages of a European Championships. In 1980, 1996 and 2004, they didn’t even make the last eight.100 - Per cent of Azzurri fans who think that Donadoni is crostini – toast.535 - Minutes since Toni last scored for Italy. The pity of it is that Italian football has spent years trying to escape from the clichés about catenaccio, dour defence and football matches as chess games. And in one drab Sunday night, they have just reinforced almost every negative stereotype about calcio. That, ultimately, may be the real blow from this campaign.
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