Straight from the dark heart of Italy
The Italians love nothing more than their passeggiata (a traditional early evening stroll), so there is plenty of satisfaction with the way the national team’s Euro 2012 qualifying campaign is progressing.
Group C is turning into something of a walk in the park for Italy after victory in Slovenia took the Azzurri’s advantage at the top of the table to six points over both their hosts on Friday and Serbia.
The only goal of the game in Ljubljana came from Brazilian-born Thaigo Motta, who Cesare Prandelli had to implore long and hard to take up Italian nationality. But it was one of Italy’s very own lost souls who really stood out.
Alberto Aquilani looked set for a glittering international career when the then-AS Roma midfielder scored twice against Montenegro during the 2010 World Cup qualifiers and seemed to have answered Marcello Lippi’s calls to lead the country into a brave new future after the disappointments of Euro 2008.
Unfortunately, that future would be one of niggling injury after niggling injury, which saw him lose his standing in the Capital and then his international place - and those same fitness problems also blighted his stay at Liverpool, where his name became synonymous with ‘big-money flop’.
After making just nine starts for the Reds, a return to Italy and Juventus on a season-long loan offered ’the Little Prince’ hope, but the Roman walked into a side struggling to find an identity under Luigi Del Neri - a coach who had never put creativity ahead of work-rate.
Thankfully, Prandelli is now in a position to look beyond next week’s result and giving Aquilani the timely platform to display his undoubted skill and poise could yet see the playmaker return to England as once-again a workable component within the Liverpool set-up.
At 26, Aquilani has never played in a World Cup or a European Championship but it seems he can now look forward to finally appearing on the big international stage come next summer.
With Andrea Pirlo now in his 30s and suffering from injury problems of his own and Daniele De Rossi’s ill-discipline still an issue, Prandelli is really in need of some genuine quality rather than wholesome endeavour in the centre of the pitch.
And on Friday’s evidence there is plenty about which to be positive - most notably the manner in which Aquilani controlled the tempo of the game, keeping the ball moving in his elegant style and bringing the attacking full-backs Christian Maggio and Federico Balzaretti into play when the opportunity arose.
Riccardo Montolivo was more water-carrier than creator but that only gave Aquilani more freedom and it was only the profligacy of the likes of Antonio Cassano that forced Italy to wait until almost the closing quarter-hour to break the deadlock.
Aquilani, by then, had been pushed forward to support the front-two of Cassano and Giampaolo Pazzini in place of the hard-working Stefano Mauri, who had been replaced by another player experiencing something of a renaissance: Antonio Nocerino.
Motta, in turn, was also able to venture further forward and it was the Inter man’s driving run to the edge of the area which finally brought the much-deserved breakthrough.
In fact, the goal summed up Prandelli’s philosophy for Italy perfectly – born as it was out of commitment and quality – something that Aquilani will want to show more off to get his career back on track.
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