Italy finally deliver the goods

It was a painful nine-month gestation in which Italy went seven games without a win, but finally in Estonia the Azzurri came through and delivered the goods.

The frigid temperatures in Tallinn were not welcoming for Cesare Prandelli’s men who had spent all week training in the late-summer sun back home - and the first half display was equally off-putting.

It was the worst failings of South Africa all over again, with passes going astray, control of the ball an alien concept and the whole backline wobbling whenever there was a set-piece to defend.

In the end, it was the class of two players who dragged Italy out of a tight corner in this Euro first 2012 qualifier: Antonio Cassano and Andrea Pirlo.

In fact, Pirlo delivered the two corners from which Cassano first drew Italy level with a header and then produced a trademark back-heel to enable Leonardo Bonucci to score from close range.

Much of the first hour had been almost unwatchable and in fact the viewing public back home missed the equaliser after state broadcaster RAI decided the moment of a rare Italy corner was the perfect time to flash up an ad (you’d never see that happen in England… - Ed).

After ten seconds of some forgettable football, seeing the players suddenly celebrating was a bit of shock until it became clear that their merriment was not down to winning another corner.

Up to then, the only positive had been Pirlo’s display anchoring the midfield - and wearing the captain’s armband the AC Milan man kept the ball moving; finding his target from 74 out of 81 of his passes.

It was as if he had the ball on a lead and he was taking it for a walk around the park. Unfortunately, further forward it more like headless chickens as possession could not be turned into a genuine goal threat.

Cassano was too many times the culprit as he too often attempted to pick out his Sampdoria team-mate Giampaolo Pazzini, who had one good effort in the first period but failed to get a shot away at all after the break, than do the simple but much more productive thing such as passing to another player wearing a blue shirt.

It was only when FantAntonio dropped – no doubt at Prandelli’s insistence - a little deeper and began playing short passes and one-twos with Pirlo that Italy started to function as a unit.

The ball then found its way out to the flanks and Mattia Cassani, in particular, enjoyed some telling runs down the right wing much in the way Gianluca Zambrotta used to.

The introduction of Fabio Quagliarella in the place of the very ineffectual Simone Pepe also give the team much-needed zip just as he had done in that fatal World Cup game against Slovakia although in the end to no avail.

However, it is the first step on a completely new era for la nazionale and there are positives to be taken, above all, a new spirit in the team.

It may look on the whole as if there are too many mid-table club players in the squad but this could be to Prandelli’s advantage, having after all turned the likes of Parma and Fiorentina into competitive outfits.

A little bit of joie de vivre is just what is needed and who better to provide it than Cassano; under Prandelli’s patient guiding hand he will learn to play for the team and understand that he can rely on his team-mates to carry the workload as well, just as he has done at Sampdoria.

It is all a little hazy at the moment but what is clear after freezing for a time in Estonia, Italy will enjoy a warm welcome back home at Prandelli’s old stomping ground in Florence against the group’s whipping boys the Faroe Islands.

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