Euro 2012 preview: Italy
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 PrandelliÃ¢ÂÂs 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, ItalyÃ¢ÂÂs was fairly routine (bar the drama at GenoaÃ¢ÂÂs 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 wasnÃ¢ÂÂt 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 coachÃ¢ÂÂs 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 CassanoÃ¢ÂÂs 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, Ã¢ÂÂFantantonioÃ¢ÂÂ 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 PrandelliÃ¢ÂÂs preferred trio of Rossi, Cassano and Balotelli will need reinforcements. A succession of so-so stand-ins have already featured in the injured duoÃ¢ÂÂs 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 MilanÃ¢ÂÂs Antonio Nocerino and JuveÃ¢ÂÂs Claudio Marchisio Ã¢ÂÂ or maybe even FiorentinaÃ¢ÂÂs Riccardo Montolivo, if he can buck his ideas up a bit Ã¢ÂÂ set to do the running. Keep an eye out for a cameo from BolognaÃ¢ÂÂs 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, thereÃ¢ÂÂs not a great deal of width, but when everyoneÃ¢ÂÂs 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 clichÃÂ©s to bed?
Serie A big-wigs scuppered plans for a series of team get-togethers in the run-up to the Euros, but PrandelliÃ¢ÂÂs man-management skills have fostered a true squad mentality, above and beyond LippiÃ¢ÂÂs Juve-centric old boysÃ¢ÂÂ club. The ability to keep Balotelli and CassanoÃ¢ÂÂs 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, ItalyÃ¢ÂÂs slightly threadbare attacking options may be a major problem. The national side has lacked a true out-and-out striker since Pippo InzaghiÃ¢ÂÂs heyday, and at times failure to finish off all that good work in the midfield has cost them dear.
Did you knowÃ¢ÂÂ¦?
Dolce & Gabbana will provide Ã¢ÂÂ¨off-field garb for the Italian team during their time in Poland and Ukraine, all part of a Ã¢ÂÂcontinually evolving bond, born of a spontaneous sharing of passion, discipline and a striving for excellenceÃ¢ÂÂ. Which is nice.
Riccardo Patresi, Gazzetta dello Sport
Ã¢ÂÂI wouldnÃ¢ÂÂt say people are worried about the Euros; more that thereÃ¢ÂÂs a need for redemption, and Italy to make its presence felt again on the international stage. Italians generally like Prandelli, and I canÃ¢ÂÂt 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 heÃ¢ÂÂll find himself left out.Ã¢ÂÂ
Good enough to progress, but not past quarters.
Cassano scored four in eight for Italy in 2011 - but what of 2012?
Ignored by Marcello Lippi, striker Cassano has been a regular in PrandelliÃ¢ÂÂs side, and has relished leading the line. Equally adept at creating and scoring goals, Cassano was ItalyÃ¢ÂÂs 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 ItalyÃ¢ÂÂs hopes of success.
He took over from Marcello Lippi after ItalyÃ¢ÂÂs 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.
1996 First round
2004 First round
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.
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FOURFOURTWO'S EURO 2012 PREVIEWS
Grp A: Poland Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Russia Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Greece Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Czech Republic
Grp B: Netherlands Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Germany Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Portugal Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Denmark
Grp C: Spain Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Italy Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Croatia Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Republic of Ireland
Grp D: Ukraine Ã¢ÂÂ¢ England Ã¢ÂÂ¢ France Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Sweden
...and there's more: try Back of the Net's satirical previews