World Cup 2014 review – Italy

Quarter-finals: FranceColombiaBelgiumCosta Rica

Round of 16: ChileUruguayMexicoGreeceNigeriaAlgeriaSwitzerlandUSA
A: CroatiaCameroon B: SpainAustralia C: Ivory CoastJapan D: ItalyEngland
E: EcuadorHonduras F: BosniaIran G: PortugalGhana H: RussiaSouth Korea

ITALY

World Cup progress: Group stage

Team rating: 3

Top scorer: Balotelli, Marchisio (1)

Italy crashed out of the World Cup in the first round after early promise just paved the way for Cesare Prandelli’s exit, writes Susy Campanale.

Azzurri down and out

For the second World Cup in a row, Italy failed to make it past the first hurdle, but this one felt different to the last. In 2010 an ageing squad was still trying to live off the glories of the 2006 triumph and South Africa just confirmed Marcello Lippi should not have returned for a second bite of the apple. Brazil should’ve been different, with talented young players, an attack-minded Coach and so much promise. Runners-up in Euro 2012, third in the Confederations Cup – played in the same extreme heat as this tournament – made many believe they’d progress to at least the semi-finals.

As is so often the case for Italy fans, winning the opener in style proved to be a portent of doom. England were out-played and the new 4-1-4-1 system worked well, as even Mario Balotelli got on the scoresheet with the winning goal. He was SuperMario again and Cesare Prandelli was hailed for having the courage to field Marco Verratti with Andrea Pirlo in a double playmaker formation. What we didn’t count on was the fact England would be little more than whipping boys in this group, the value of a victory vastly overrated and Balotelli’s sudden desire to put in the effort was just a tantalising glimpse of unexploited potential.

The tournament was lost against Costa Rica with a toothless performance and then Luis Suarez provided altogether too many teeth for Giorgio Chiellini’s liking. The Uruguay striker's initial four-month ban for his umpteenth moment of madness – does it even count as a moment anymore when it is such a regular occurrence? – was of scant consolation to Italy. Failure to score in two out of three games was bad enough, but the inability to create decent scoring opportunities at all meant Prandelli’s era was over.

“The technical project failed and as the Coach it is therefore my responsibility,” Prandelli said he wanted to make the fans fall in love with the Nazionale again, but if anything this showing has consolidated their cynicism. It has been said Italy excel with their backs to the wall, when everyone and everything is against them. Maybe being loved isn’t what is best for this team.

Prandelli adopted three completely different line-ups and approaches in the three games, even adjusting during those matches to eventually use seven disparate systems. That is too many for one side to handle and they seemed to be struck by calcio schizophrenia. Bizarrely, Italy embraced the concept of ‘tiki-taka’ precisely as it was dying out, showing all the reasons why it now doesn’t work as well. Plenty of possession does not make goal scoring opportunities and the lack of movement in a tired team was frustrating to watch.

Without doubt some choices will come under scrutiny too. Leaving Giuseppe Rossi behind, even when not 100 per cent fit, was a risk and bringing along Antonio Cassano a gamble that didn’t pay off. Like the rest of his Parma teammates, FantAntonio’s form was dropping rapidly towards the end of the season. It’s also inconceivable to bring just one left-back in Mattia De Sciglio when he spent most of the campaign on the Milan treatment table, not even considering Domenico Criscito for the provisional squad.

Mattia Destro, Alberto Gilardino and even Luca Toni were left behind because Prandelli wanted to attack without reference points. Instead he ended up using Balotelli, a centre-forward who doesn’t fully understand or even want to take that role. It’s easy to blame Balo, but he was not put in a position to give his best. Good ideas were half-finished, tested out during decisive matches or just plain abandoned. Now Prandelli’s era is on the scrapheap too.

The Coach – Cesare Prandelli

All the promise of Euro 2012 and the Confederations Cup washed away on the beaches of Brazil. He had too many ideas and mistook versatility for tactical confusion. A side without an identity and gambles that did not pay off meant the Coach surprised nobody by resigning, just weeks after agreeing a two-year contract extension.

Player of the Tournament – Marco Verratti

Why did it take so long for the Paris Saint-Germain talent to get regular playing time? He’s clearly mature enough and has the quality to work with Andrea Pirlo as well as replace him going forward. He was sorely missed against Costa Rica and fought valiantly with Uruguay. Verratti is the future.

Memorable moment – Chiellini chomped

Ultimately we’ll remember this World Cup for Luis Suarez taking a bite out of Giorgio Chiellini’s shoulder and realising the Juventus defender was more sinewy than succulent.

Results

14-Jun-14 England 1-2 Italy Group D
20-Jun-14 Italy 0-1 Costa Rica Group D
24-Jun-14 Italy 0-1 Uruguay Group D
Group D P W D L F A Pts
Costa Rica 3 2 1 0 4 1 7
Uruguay 3 2 0 1 4 4 6
Italy 3 1 0 2 2 3 3
England 3 0 1 2 2 4 1

Squad

No Pos Player Apps Goals Assists
1 GK Gianluigi Buffon 2
2 D Mattia De Sciglio 1
3 D Giorgio Chiellini 3
4 D Matteo Darmian 3
5 M Thiago Motta 3
6 M Antonio Candreva 2 1
7 D Ignazio Abate 1
8 M Claudio Marchisio 3 1
9 A Mario Balotelli 3 1
10 A Antonio Cassano 2
11 A Alessio Cerci 1
12 GK Salvatore Sirigu 1
13 GK Mattia Perin
14 M Alberto Aquilani
15 D Andrea Barzagli 3
16 M Daniele De Rossi 2
17 A Ciro Immobile 2
18 A Marco Parolo 2
19 D Leonardo Bonucci 1
20 D Gabriel Paletta 1
21 M Andrea Pirlo 3
22 A Lorenzo Insigne 1
23 M Marco Verratti 2 1

For a complete review of the 2014 World Cup, check out the next issue of Soccer Italia, written by the team at Football Italia and available on worldwide subscription.