Straight from the dark heart of Italy
Marcello Lippi’s final squad before having to decide on the 23 players who will carry the hopes of a nation to South Africa has garlanded more coverage of those missing from the party to face Cameroon than those actually called up.
Such games are generally an opportunity to verify if a player’s club form can morph into that of an international in the space of 48 hours or so.
No easy task, but the past has often demonstrated that a rough diamond can shine through: Antonio Cabrini in 1978, Paolo Rossi in 1982, Salvatore Schillaci in 1990 and Fabio Grosso in 2006.
Lippi has gone for a goalkeeper, a central defender and attacking midfielder to cover just about all bases.
Salvatore Sirigu has the best chance of claiming the third keeper’s shirt while Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Cossu will have to prove something very special to force their way into the reckoning.
Such pivotal positions as central defender, where Bonucci plays, and the midfield fulcrum in which Cossu operates demand lightning-rod performances.
This was why Lippi was somewhat put out when Alessandro Nesta snubbed him after initially seeming to be open to a return to the fold. It's almost as if when push came to shove, AC Milan reminded the veteran who stood by him when the rumours were circulating that his career was over following a lengthy spell away from the game with a chronic back problem.
But considering that the Roman went to the last three World Cups and was crippled by injury before the knockout stages, maybe it's for the best that Lippi looks somewhere else.
From the past to the future and the thorny issue of Mario Balotelli: the 19-year-old’s omission means that he will not make his debut on Lippi’s watch. The clamour to include the Inter youngster has been growing amongst the country’s 60 million or so coaches.
But as with Antonio Cassano, the populist vote will not sway the man in charge – who can always, if cornered by a would-be Mister on his selection decisions, pull out his World Cup winner’s medal.
If you accept that each of the players heading to the World Cup is technically proficient and in some cases sublimely gifted, then it's team tactics that win the big prize.
Lippi demonstrated that perfectly last time in Germany, where he used his outfield squad to the full and where Francesco Totti played no greater part in the grand scheme of things than, say, Alessandro del Piero.
The players at the coach’s disposal were all experienced, athletic and above all, team men. In the semi-final, Del Piero and Vincenzo Iaquinta were kept on the bench until extra-time.
Strikers they may be but if you look back at the game you will see that they tracked back to cover along the flank - and of course, being fresh, they were able to burst forward on the counter-attack, which happened when Del Piero scored the second goal, having been set up by fellow substitute Alberto Gilardino.
It's such pragmatism that Lippi will instil once again within the ranks of the defending champions and for all Balotelli’s raw talent his tactical awareness is still at the kindergarten stage.
Jose Mourinho has spent most of the campaign scolding his young charge for not covering back, for drifting out wide when he was told to come inside – for not following team orders.
There has been evidence of late, against Chelsea and on Sunday at Udinese, that it's slowly sinking in that football is a team game – but not to the extent that it can be condensed into a high-stakes month where each player must be ready to adapt to any eventuality.
With little or no hype surrounding the Azzurri, Lippi can plot away in peace, and (injuries notwithstanding) with the following squad at his disposal:
Goalkeepers: Buffon (Juventus), De Sanctis (Napoli), Marchetti (Cagliari)Defenders: F.Cannavaro, Grosso, Chiellini, Legrottaglie (Juventus), Bonera, Zambrotta (AC Milan), Criscito (Genoa), Cassani (Palermo)Midfielders: Pirlo, Gattuso (AC Milan), De Rossi (AS Roma), Camoranesi, Marchisio (Juventus), Palombo (Sampdoria), Peppe (Udinese)Forwards: Iaquinta (Juventus), Gilardino (Fiorentina), Di Natale (Udinese), Borriello (AC Milan), Pazzini (Sampdoria).
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Good blog as always. Your assessment of Balotelli is so right. The predicted squad looks right too, although Ambrosini has proved far more effective than Ringho this season, & Guiseppe Rossi has to be in there, above Di Natale.
well they could win it. far more likely that they bomb heavily and early.
That really is a very uninspiring squad.
Surely there is room for one maverick?
It's the most untalented squad since 1978 this one: The defense is old and slow, the midfield slow and old, and the front line without any kind of spark. Where will the goals come from? Not from Di Natale, Iaquinta has been MIA for what, 8 months now, Pazzini has not developed at all, Gilardino was a has-been 2 years ago, had a so-so season last year but if he's Lippi's 'titolare' then Italy might as well send in a sick-note for South Africa.
It's also something of an irony that the 2 best talents of the new generation in racist Italy are Balotelli and Stefano Okaka.
I have always come into every world cup (been watching em since 78) with a faint hope for Italy, but 2010 is going to be very ugly; Cannavaro is no longer a world-class defender, Gattuso warms the bench for Milan, Pirlo has scored once in 2 years from open play and looked slow against Man Utd's geriatric midfield, imagine that central midfield pairing against Spain (depressing!), Grosso has been usurped at Juve by De Ceglie, Legrottaglie may have one decent game in him a season so we can only pray on that score, Criscito is still 'developing', unfornutately he's almost 30, Marchisio is not ready for prime-time, while for Zambrotta this world cup is one season too late; Borriello may turn out to do a Paolo Rossi, but I suspect not...
Only names missing from your roster are Montolivo (I can see Lippi taking him in case he needs someone who, on paper anyway, may have once upon a time opened a defense with a pass) Maggio, and Quagliarella.
But truth is, this Italian team is very capable of duplicating France's performance in 06 - played 3, won 0, scored 0, going home before the party even starts.
Oh, and Cassano is the only natural heir to Del Piero/Totti, and Italy needs him - even if it is for an extra-time debut.
Great post Alex. You're right on the money there. Too much pragmatism equals BORING. There's nobody in that squad that can and will give me a tingling sensation in my toes.
I am glad however to see Camoranesi there, because I've always thought him to be severely underrated even though He has achieved so much.
Pepe is an exciting runner as well as having the most pathetic shooting capabilities to ever grace a national side (and that's saying a lot considering Luca Toni and Gilardino).
Why not call up de Ceglie if He is keeping Grosso on the bench?
Lippi needs to realise that his teachers pet stalwarts cant produce every world cup, especially now that they're crippled and decrepit.
Giovanni you're absolutely right - did you watch the Cameroon game? Awful stuff - though Cannavaro looked solid for once, belying his form for Juve this season where's he's been decidedly dodgy. And yes, Camoranesi is a good player, but he's 'Argentine' so he'll never really be 'Italian' - much like Amauri, doesn't matter if he scores a hat-trick in the final, he'll always be a foreigner for many Italians-sad, but there it is.
Sad, too, that Italy has not been able to produce an outstanding midfielder in 2 generations now - this team cries out for one player like Iniesta, or Xavi ... hey, maybe Jose can convert Balotelli into a number 10? He looked great for the under 21s as always, and was even smiling there for a few minutes! I know Lippi is Lippi, and after his brilliant tactical masterpiece against Ajax all those years ago (when he went with 3 up front in the final to counter Ajax's 3-man defense) I won't say a bad word about him, but bloody hell - if my life depended on it, and I had a choice between pazzini, di natale or balotelli, I know who'd I would choose. Surely there's space in a 23 man team for balotelli when the alternatives are gilardino, di natale, and pazzini!!!!
Ok look, for the national side di Natale would be a great prospect wide left. And yes balotelli is much more technically gifted than all those strikers put together.
But just like with Cassano.. i dont think Lippi ignores Mario's talents, But is rather worried that He could have a destabilising effect on the squad and dressing room. I would take him with and tell him to behave and focus on his football. Simple. To me italy plays too defensively, i want to see more width exploited.
Pirlo and De Rossi to hold the middle; di Natale wide left, Camoranesi wide right and Super-Mario through the middle.. In the match Di Natale can interchange with Mario. Bob's your uncle!
And so what if He doesnt track back?! He'll be the only one not doing it, big deal..
Giovanni, I agree entirely - Cassano/Balotelli as Plan B sounds indeed like a plan in case Rossi/Gilardino strike blanks, though I do hope Iaquinta gets some form, he's obviously fresh and will be ready to go come June and he is Italy's most accomplished finisher, pace, good in the air, and very mobile; Rossi, meanwhile, can quite comfortably fill in the number 10 for a while. Big pity that Nesta has refused to come back though - Nesta/Chiellini in central defense is enough for Italy to secure a 0-0 against any team in the world, especially with an in-form de Rossi holding the hole. For sure, though, what we saw yesterday up front will not do the business in South Africa, there's just no creativity. On the other hand, Lippi could always play Pirlo further up the park and stick in Gattuso next to de Rossi ... mmmm ... pity that Pirlo is so damn slow though!
Dilemmas dilemmas.. I'm sorry but i dont fancy Rossi. I watch la liga more than anything else, and while he has a sharp mind, his body just doesnt respond or follow what He is thinking.
Rossi, destined to choke I'm afraid.
A cassano/super mario pairing would be fun to watch because they both make creative runs and passes that defenders dont expect. An in form Iaquinta is always a productive and solid choice.
Come on Lippi, stop being so conservative! Pick some volatile hotheads and mix it up a bit! Italy might just play more exciting football for once!
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