Euro 2012 preview: Italy

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With Italian football rocked by allegations of match-fixing, the national team could boost their public by bringing home some silverware. Matt Barker assesses the Azzurri's hopes of repeating the trick of 2006...

Italy dull and functional? Unlikely with these two in the team...

Cesare Prandelli’s two years at the Azzurri helm have provided, if not quite the winds of change, a breath of fresh air after the increasingly grumpy and disastrously stubborn tenure of Marcello Lippi. Prandelli is a progressive coach, more open to the idea of giving younger players a chance.

As qualifying campaigns go, Italy’s was fairly routine (bar the drama at Genoa’s Stadio Luigi Ferraris, when the match was abandoned and the home side awarded a 3-0 win due to rioting Serbian fans) and they topped the group undefeated with a record points haul. Not that there wasn’t the occasional hiccup: a goalless draw in Northern Ireland and squeaky 1-0 win against the Faroes is hardly the stuff of European champions.

Prandelli has stood by Mario Balotelli, reacting to inevitable scrapes with a paternal good grace. The Manchester City player made his international debut in the coach’s first game, a 1-0 defeat to Ivory Coast in August 2010. Prandelli did, however, make a point of dropping both Super Mario and Daniele De Rossi for a high-profile friendly against the US; a warning shot to both about disciplinary problems.

Antonio Cassano’s prolonged absence has been a major blow. The Milan player underwent heart surgery in November after suffering cardiac problems following a game against Roma. At the time of writing, ‘Fantantonio’ had just made his Milan first-team comeback from the bench, and the hope is that he can regain full match fitness and form in time for the tournament. Fellow striker Giuseppe Rossi has been ruled out of the tournament through injury, however, meaning Prandelli’s preferred trio of Rossi, Cassano and Balotelli will need reinforcements. A succession of so-so stand-ins have already featured in the injured duo’s absence, with young buck Fabio Borini (ex-Chelsea and Swansea, now going great guns at Roma) a possible surprise package.

In midfield, a revitalised Andrea Pirlo will pull the strings, protected by De Rossi in front of him, with Milan’s Antonio Nocerino and Juve’s Claudio Marchisio – or maybe even Fiorentina’s Riccardo Montolivo, if he can buck his ideas up a bit – set to do the running. Keep an eye out for a cameo from Bologna’s in-form Alessandro Diamanti (yes, the former West Ham man).

The former Fiorentina coach is big on fluidity: a high back line links up with a midfield primed in turn to take advantage of the strikers pulling the opposition defence out of shape. Granted, there’s not a great deal of width, but when everyone’s on song, they play with a zip and flexibility that can catch teams unaware.

Prandelli has kept a lid on expectations, stressing that this is a team in transition while keeping media and public onside. All of which could go right out of the window once the serious stuff begins against the Spanish on June 10...

Coach Prandelli has attempted to cool expectations back home

Lessons from qualifying
Come out all guns blazing from the off. At times during qualification, Italy were happy to dictate a faster rhythm during opening exchanges. Possession stats make for intriguing reading, too (second only to Spain). Time to finally put those catenaccio clichés to bed?

Serie A big-wigs scuppered plans for a series of team get-togethers in the run-up to the Euros, but Prandelli’s man-management skills have fostered a true squad mentality, above and beyond Lippi’s Juve-centric old boys’ club. The ability to keep Balotelli and Cassano’s mood swings in check is a huge plus, and could prove crucial as the tournament progresses.

If star man Cassano struggles with fitness during the tournament, Italy’s slightly threadbare attacking options may be a major problem. The national side has lacked a true out-and-out striker since Pippo Inzaghi’s heyday, and at times failure to finish off all that good work in the midfield has cost them dear.

Did you know…?
Dolce & Gabbana will provide 
off-field garb for the Italian team during their time in Poland and Ukraine, all part of a “continually evolving bond, born of a spontaneous sharing of passion, discipline and a striving for excellence”. Which is nice.

Expert’s view
Riccardo Patresi, Gazzetta dello Sport
“I wouldn’t say people are worried about the Euros; more that there’s a need for redemption, and Italy to make its presence felt again on the international stage. Italians generally like Prandelli, and I can’t see him getting sacked even if the Azzurri do have a poor tournament. Yes, he has been patient with Balotelli, but that will only go so far: the player needs to behave properly on and off the pitch, or he’ll find himself left out.”

Good enough to progress, but not past quarters.

Cassano scored four in eight for Italy in 2011 - but what of 2012?

Star man
Antonio Cassano
Ignored by Marcello Lippi, striker Cassano has been a regular in Prandelli’s side, and has relished leading the line. Equally adept at creating and scoring goals, Cassano was Italy’s top marksman in qualifying, with six goals. If he can regain fitness and form on his return to club colours before the summer, the AC Milan frontman will be vital to Italy’s hopes of success.

The Manager
Cesare Prandelli

He took over from Marcello Lippi after Italy’s dismal World Cup campaign in 2010 and has set about rebuilding the side, giving younger players like Mario Balotelli and Antonio Nocerino a chance. The former Fiorentina boss has lifted the spirits within the Italian camp since their South African debacle and should get them to the knockout phase.

How they play
Using a narrow formation with four central midfielders, Italy compete for the ball relentlessly in the middle of the pitch and look to retain possession. Width will come from the fullbacks, while unpredictable duo Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli will play up top. With fresh faces and much to prove after a poor World Cup, expect a highly motivated Azzurri.

Euro record
1960 DNE
1964 DNQ
1968 Winners
1972 DNQ
1976 DNQ
1980 Semi-finals
1984 DNQ
1988 Semi-finals
1992 DNQ
1996 First round
2000 Runners-up
2004 First round
2008 Quarter-finals

Group fixtures
June 10, Spain (Gdansk, 5pm)
June 14, Croatia (Poznan, 5pm)
June 18, Rep of Ireland (Poznan, 7.45pm)

Italy are 12/1 to win Euro 2012, with Man City striker Mario Balotelli 66/1 to be official player of the tournament.
Exclusive Coral/FourFourTwo free bet offer: Bet £30, get £60.
More details

Grp A:
Poland • Russia • Greece • Czech Republic
Grp B:
Netherlands • Germany • Portugal • Denmark
Grp C:
Spain • Italy • Croatia • Republic of Ireland
Grp D:
Ukraine • England • France • Sweden

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