Prandelli can throw off the chains after Italy take game to Spain
It was around this time last year that Italy were succumbing to a 4-0 humbling at the hands of Spain in the final of Euro 2012. Last night's rematch in Fortaleza the Azzurri went some way to laying the ghost of Kiev to rest.
Cesare PrandelliÃ¢ÂÂs side may not have reached the final of the Confederations Cup, but they matched the Spanish throughout 120 minutes of what was an engrossing goalless draw.
Leonardo BonucciÃ¢ÂÂs skyward thump after 12 superb spot-kicks may have left Italy empty-handed in a fashion echoing their departure from Euro 2008, but there are plenty of positives to be taken from the tournament - and this semi-final in particular. This should ensure the squad return to Brazil next summer knowing they can match the best in the world.
In fact, Italy could have been two up in the first half through headers from Christian Maggio, while other presentable chances also went begging. Overall, Italy responded to every demand Prandelli had put on them; to be bright, quick and decisive going forward.
It was the wide areas in particular where Italy really exploited space when they won back possession, with Emanuele Giaccherini and Antonio Candreva taking on the full-backs at every opportunity. Meanwhile, MaggioÃ¢ÂÂs excellent display at rightback highlighted the need for Prandelli to rethink his formation ahead of the autumn World Cup 2014 qualifiers.
Alberto Gilardino may have worked tirelessly in attack, but Mario Balotelli would have no doubt put away at least one of the numerous opportunities that fell his compatriot's way. Spain, for their part, only had one clear-cut chance in the first half, which Fernando Torres pulled just wide.
The injured Super Mario was probably watching back home, and in a way his absence may have been a positive in that he now knows exactly how important he is to his countryÃ¢ÂÂs chances next summer.
All that smart and swift build-up play needs a striker capable of finishing off the move, and Prandelli will be working even harder to build the team around Balotelli. At the same time, he'll also be drumming into his charge that this is the most important twelve months of his career.
There are other areas of the pitch where the coach will need to tailor his tactics to each opponent, but a back-three was the correct option against a Spain side with only one out-and-out striker. The question is; would the system stand firm against the other elite sides of international football?
If Prandelli is to decide on this option, it will be built around a Juventus backline which will be under even more pressure next season, as they will provide the bedrock for another Serie A title defence and an assault on the Champions League. Captain Gianluigi Buffon is still a world-class goalkeeper and genuine leader, but Andrea Barzagli struggled through the tournament and will be 33 come World Cup 2014. Bonucci, meanwhile, was at times caught out against swift opponents. The tough-tackling Giorgio Chiellini could possibly be the only Juventino defender to lay claim to a starting place next summer, but in the meantime younger players will have to push their way into contention.
Davide Astori was an unused substitute in Brazil and would need a move away from Cagliari to advance his claims, but Angelo OgbonnaÃ¢ÂÂs imminent switch from Torino to Juventus will make him an ideal candidate to reinforce PrandelliÃ¢ÂÂs belief that a four-man defence is not necessarily the way forward.
The eight goals conceded in their three group matches will have raised some concern, but with Daniele De Rossi at his best in front of his own D, Italy have a player who can seamlessly morph from midfielder to central defender when cover is required. The AS Roma man dropped into the centre of the back-three to replace the limping Barzagli in the second half, and never put a foot wrong, recreating his man-of-the-match performance from when the teams met in the group stages at Euro 2012.
Living in the shadow of Francesco Totti and shackled with nickname Ã¢ÂÂFuture CaptainÃ¢ÂÂ for too long, De Rossi, even at the age of 30, has put himself back in the shop window. Giallorossi president James Pallotta may regret not backing the player staying at the club when he was interviewed on the day of the Spanish game.
De RossiÃ¢ÂÂs versatility was matched by that of Maggio, who has played primarily at full-back but is more naturally a wing-back. His runs from deep almost produced goals on two occasions, but given the freedom to tirelessly patrol the whole right flank, the Napoli player was a strong contender for the man-of-the-match award.
With Giaccherini balancing things on the left, Italy have the makings of a side that can play an open and expansive game on which Balotelli would thrive. It is up to Prandelli to remove the chains and let the Azzurri run free if and when they return to Brazil in 12 months time.