Time for Lippi to make tough decisions

What a difference a couple of days make - and from the quiet confidence that Italy would progress from what has to be the most modest of groups at this World Cup, it is now a case of do-or-die against Slovakia on Thursday.

After being caught cold by workmanlike New Zealand, who in all honesty only did what was expected of them, the Italian players were not willing to step outside their comfort zone when they trooped back to the dressing room.

Having been informed that there would be no warming shower for at least 20 minutes following a technical fault in the heater, the players had plenty of time to contemplate what had been the most inept Azzurri performance at a World Cup since the 1-1 draw with Cameroon in ‘82.

Unlike in Spain, there seems little hope that the side will go on to ultimate glory considering that Marcello Lippi has shown all but his full hand in the first two games – to produce 1-1 draws in both.

The game against Paraguay had at least positives in the making, especially in the way the team reacted to going a goal down and in the manner in which they drove forward with purpose; first in search of the equaliser and then the winner, even if it was ultimately never to arrive.

The same eleven out-field players started yesterday and it seemed that the coach had at least settled on a formation capable of taking down the 78th ranked team in the world.

However, it was plain to see that confusion was still the order of the day in Lippi’s thinking on personnel for the job.

Having spent the first-half screaming at Simone Pepe to get to the by-line and whip in crosses, the best player against Paraguay became the fall guy for the team’s complete failings to even get the ball out wide - and was substituted at the break.

What Lippi sees in Claudio Marchisio is anyone’s guess: he cannot beat a man down the left flank – he isn’t even left-footed – and he cannot add invention behind the strikers but these are the two positions he has found himself in the last two games, but why?

The Juventus man’s strengths lie in his work-rate and the ability to make telling runs into the opposition area – a poorer version of Marco Tardelli – but that is Daniele De Rossi’s role so basically it is wasting a body on the pitch.

Another player who may as well have been sitting on the bench was of course Alberto Gilardino who cannot out-fox even the most run-of-the-mill defenders never-mind muscle them off the ball.

The Fiorentina man may not be expected to win the physical battles, but quick-movement and ability to turn defenders would help at least to create confusion in opposition minds – both of these aspects were missing so once again why continue with someone whose failings are there to see?

If he cannot play with his back to goal then hand the task to Giampaolo Pazzini who plainly can.

Lippi must consider a revamp for the match against Slovakia but one under-performer who will remain untouchable is of course Fabio Cannavaro.

The captain has been caught out in the last two games and okay, Shane Smeltz may have been offside but where was the man who used to be the world’s best defender? – On the seat of his pants.

Four years ago the opposition could not get anywhere near the area without running into the Azzurri leader, but yesterday an 18-year-old reserve skipped past him to almost score the winner.

Lippi has selected a squad that would probably be there at the death if the World Cup was played over a nine-month season, but with each of the three group games becoming mini-finals the team needs to be primed as if it was the run-in to the end of a campaign.

Time is running out and the coach needs to make some clear and tough decisions – and if not then Italy could end up like France in 2002: handing over their crown in the lamest manner possible.

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