FFT's man in Italy, Richard Whittle, sheds light on the young Torino striker looking to make Cesare Prandelli's World Cup squad...
A Turin derby has generally been an ideal opportunity for Juventus to tick off six points before the fixture list is even announced. In fact, coming into Sunday’s game, Torino had not won the Derby della Mole since 1995, when Ruggiero Rizzitelli was the two-goal hero in a 2-1 success. They hadn't even scored since Benoit Cauet netted in 2002.
At the weekend, their hopes of ending a 15-game winless derby run were even slimmer: the game was at the Juventus Stadium, where Antonio Conte’s team had won all of their 12 league matches this season.
As an added bonus, Juve were also hunting down Torino’s all-time Serie A record of 14 straight home wins, which their title-winning side of 1976 achieved under coach Luigi Radice.
Paolo Pulici was the league’s top goalscorer that season with 21 goals. 'Pupi' was a robust centre-forward who made Italy's squad for the World Cup finals in 1974 and 1978, but didn't feature in either competition. Now, nearly 40 years later, Toro have another bustling frontman with the capocannonieri crown and a place in Cesare Prandelli’s World Cup 2014 squad in his sights. That man is Ciro Immobile, who has even moved his wedding to the end of May in case the call-up arrives.
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Immobile, who turned 24 last Thursday, came into this derby just one goal behind Giuseppe Rossi, whose chances of playing again before the end of the season are still in the balance as the Fiorentina man recovers from knee ligament damage. Immobile, on 13 goals, had been on the scoresheet in the previous eight matches.
Team-mate Alessio Cerci, who has featured for the Azzurri en route to Brazil, had 11 goals, with five coming from the penalty spot. Between them, the deadly duo had claimed well over half of Torino’s 39 goals, and came into the game having score one more than the joint tally of Juve pair Carlo Tevez (13) and Fernando Llorente (10).
All eyes were on Immobile, though, playing against the club that scouted him from Sorrento as a teenager and who currently own €2.75 million of his contract (as part of the €13m deal that took Angelo Ogbonna across Turin in the summer). Before that the striker had done the rounds on loan and co-ownerships deals – first at Pescara where he was named Serie B player of the year with 28 goals, and then a less-than-successful co-ownership switch to Genoa last season when he only netted five times.
There was noted progression in Italy's Under-21 ranks, however, which encouraged Juventus to buy out Genoa’s share of the player. The merry-go-round may end this summer if Borussia Dortmund pursue their reported interest, as the Bundesliga side seek a replacement for Bayern Munich-bound Robert Lewandowski.
For now, however, the player is totally focused on Torino, and there has certainly been no evidence of showing the Old Lady her due respect. In the reverse fixture, Immobile had raked his studs into Tevez’s ankle, prompting the Argentine to tweet a picture of himself propped up on his sofa at home to display the damage. A controversial goal from Paul Pogba, where Tevez looked to have been offside in the build-up, only added to Toro's ire.
Having lost only twice in over three months there was newfound confidence in their ranks, something rarely seen in the last two decades ahead of a city showdown.
But despite Immobile threatening to swing the outcome, it was Tevez who tamed Toro with the only goal of the game midway through the first half. It took the Argentine joint-top of the goalscoring charts, and although El Apache may not be in his country’s plans for Brazil, the striker is the focal point of Conte’s gameplan. His constant movement across the pitch and darting runs into the area mean opposition teams can rarely relax.
It was one such sprint, followed by a quick turn and instant shot, that produced his goal on 30 minutes. He celebrated by pretending to play what may have been a trumpet, which he later explained was aimed at a musician friend from home. In Italy, however, the verb 'to trumpet' is also slang for hanky-panky, which some of Monday’s papers and most of the news sites jumped in on with a series of headlines playing on Tevez’s celebration. Whatever the striker's gesture meant, he was on tune throughout the encounter
Torino's younger pretender Immobile wasn't off-song by any means, though. He sent team-mate Omar El Kaddouri clean through to no avail, fired a powerful shot which tore away the goal-frame support and followed that up with another solo run which had the Juve defence desperately scrambling back to cover. He also demonstrated his tactical awareness by drawing his marker and potential Italy team-mate Leonardo Bonucci further away from his own penalty area, which enabled both Cerci and El Kaddouri to exploit the space in behind on a number of occasions. The 24-year-old was sound in his defensive duties, meanwhile, dropping back to pressurise Andrea Pirlo with good effect.
Once Tevez struck, however, it was game over. Juventus were content to sit back and defend on the edge of their area, which denied Torino from employing the effective counter-attacking that had brought the best out of Immobile’s power and Cerci’s pace all season. While the former was able to adapt and follow the Tevez example of moving across the frontline, it was not until the final quarter of the match that a tiring Bianconeri backline became stretched.
Torino were left to rue a clear penalty decision in the last 10 minutes when Pirlo clipped El Kaddouri’s ankles, as the referee waved away their appeals and with it any real opportunity of a clear sight on Gianluigi Buffon’s goal.
But the game was not a complete loss for Immobile. Italy have a friendly with Spain on March 5, and Prandelli will have been impressed with the striker's all-round game in leading the line and helping Torino's midfield. A confidence-building call-up will only reinforce his chances of making the trip to Brazil and delaying that summer honeymoon.
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