MILAN - For decades an Italy away game against Estonia would have been viewed as a fairly straight-forward affair but this Friday's Euro 2012 qualifier looks anything but given the Azzurri's lack of confidence.
Italy's World Cup debacle where the holders drew with Paraguay and New Zealand before being dumped out in the group stage after a harrowing 3-2 defeat by Slovakia means the old order of European football has somewhat changed.
Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, currently out injured, said in the aftermath of South Africa that once-mighty Italy could struggle to qualify for Euro 2012 and new coach Cesare Prandelli is sounding almost as cautious ahead of their opener.
"Let's start by finding the right tactical balance, order and above all results," the former Fiorentina boss told reporters when asked about whether he wanted exciting play.
"It won't be a walk in the park against Estonia, they are a proven side. We have to be careful."
August's 1-0 friendly defeat by Ivory Coast in Prandelli's first match in charge further highlighted Italy's fall from grace, although the coach put out a much-changed side which had little time to prepare.
Tweaks are necessary again after forwards Mario Balotelli and Amauri were ruled out of Friday's match and the September 7 qualifier with the Faroe Islands in Florence through injury.
Sampdoria's Giampaolo Pazzini looks favourite over fellow recalled striker Alberto Gilardino to play upfront in a likely 4-3-2-1 formation unless Prandelli opts for 4-4-2.
"Pazzini has an advantage because he started his season's preparation earlier and has already played top class matches (Champions League qualifiers)," Prandelli added.
Pazzini's club team mate Antonio Cassano is poised to play off the frontman if he shakes off a back problem with Simone Pepe or Giuseppe Rossi probably coming in as the third player in the trident.
The 2006 World Cup winner Andrea Pirlo could come back into midfield after not being fully fit for the Ivory Coast defeat while a debut is likely for Fiorentina fullback Lorenzo De Silvestri.
Nervous Italy fans, still coming to terms with the World Cup aberration under Marcello Lippi, will at least draw comfort from Estonia's first game in Group C when they needed two injury-time goals from Kaimar Saag to beat the Faroes 2-1 at home.
Estonia: 1-Sergei Pareiko, 17-Enar Jaager, 5-Dmitri Kruglov, 19-Alo Barengrub, 4-Raio Piiroja, 15-Ragnar Klavan, 7-Sander Puri, 14-Konstantin Vassiljev, 6-Aleksandr Dmitrijev, 20-Kaimar Saag, 9-Tarmo Kink
Italy: Salvatore Sirigu; Lorenzo De Silvestri, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, Cristian Molinaro; Daniele De Rossi, Andrea Pirlo, Riccardo Montolivo; Antonio Cassano, Simone Pepe, Giampaolo Pazzini
Referee: Carlos Velasco Carballo (Spain)comments