Function but no fun from artless Azzurri

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Marcello Lippi has been complaining that no one is interested in Italy’s World Cup qualifying campaign. It's easy to see why after the turgid performance in Georgia.

From's World Cup News section:
Sun Sep 6: Kaladze says sorry
Mon Sep 7: De Rossi returns

Sitting through performances like that veers from the uncomfortable to the unwatchable, but of course national pride dictates that a perfectly good Saturday evening must be spoiled by following the Azzurri.

Despite a 2-0 win, highlights were few and far between.

At one end, Gigi Buffon's safe hands. At the other, Kakha Kaladze’s helping hand. Well, head and feet: the unfortunate AC Milan man's double own goal means he is now Italy’s joint-top goalscorer in qualifying.

"What the juddering chuff are you doing?!" 

Ah well, we can leave the fun stuff to Spain and Brazil - this is Italy: the dirty street urchin of world football, living off its wits, doing what it must to survive. Right?

At least in those heady, hazy days during the summer of 2006 there was purpose at the back and a swagger coming forward that caught the rest of the world out.

In Tbilisi it was the Italy of old: even the setting was suitably dour.

Next stop Turin, another city which has been noted for its greyness, although it has shaken off its shackles of industry to become a vibrant hub of creativity.

It’s doubtful any colour will rub off on the national team. Lippi seems to have abandoned any thoughts of playing open and expansive football, and after the debacle of the Confederations Cup it looks as if the 4-3-3 formation has been jettisoned for good.

The solid 4-4-2 has produced two consecutive shut-outs, which at least has Fabio Cannavaro beaming once again.

Ater all, the captain now has a protective buffer to cover his ever-growing frailties.

The Juve man can also take heart that finally there is some youthful exuberance in the backline, with Giorgio Chiellini – asked to do nothing more than clear his lines and kick anything and anybody that comes near him – flanked by the impressive Domenico Criscito and Davide Santon.

Maybe, finally, Gianluca Zambrotta and Fabio Grosso will be eased out to the retirement home for aged full-backs no longer able to cross the halfway line.

All fine and dandy then at the back, but it’s further up the pitch where a dearth of quality could well catch Lippi out eventually.

In seven qualifying games, seven strikers have taken the pitch with a return of only four goals – two from Antonio di Natale and one each from Vincenzo Iaquinta and Giampaolo Pazzini.

However, the problem does not lie exclusively with the goal-shy frontmen.

The shadow of Antonio Cassano will cast a long shadow over the rest of the campaign and beyond, but Lippi has made his decision and whatever magic the Bari Bawler can conjure will ultimately be in vain.

"Keep that Cassano away from me" 

Without the Sampdoria star, where is the class? If only Diego was Italian.

In Germany three summers ago, Lippi could call upon Francesco Totti with Andrea Pirlo offering support.

But the AS Roma captain has long said goodbye to international matters, while his able sidekick has been played into the ground and unfortunately cannot get into advanced positions as he once did.

The obvious alternatives - in Alberto Aquilani and Riccardo Montolvio - haven't developed a sufficient depth to their game over the last three years to be handed such a demanding role.

Thiago Motta possesses an Italian passport, but the complications that would surely arise surrounding his previous appearances for Brazil at the Gold Cup make that option a probable non-starter.

In the meantime, the concern lies in disposing of Bulgaria on Wednesday – and then setting in place a squad that has a viable chance of defending its world crown.

If it’s built around the traditional strengths of “none shall pass” then so be it – but without the inventiveness, you can't help but feel that in South Africa there will be no "Berlin moment" to celebrate. 

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