Embarking upon this years European Championship is a new-look Italian squad that leaves both the casual and educated footy fan asking the question, “who are those players wearing the Azzurri?”
Of course there are some remaining individuals from tournaments gone past, the former world number one Buffon, a reborn midfield maestro in Pirlo, the often troubled yet technically brilliant Cassano, and the ever “elbow ready” De Rossi. These players represent the old Italian style of “setting up shop” and defending their opponents into submission.
The small number of these remaining players symbolizes the shift that Italian soccer has begun, moving to more attacking, free flowing football that is both visually entertaining and physically fun to perform. The Italian Serie A is being filled with teams like Roma, Udinese, Lazio, and Napoli that want to please their fans by playing attacking football filled with adventurous players not afraid of dribbling at opponents and taking the game by the throat. This style of course has its problems, leaving oneself open to attack and vulnerable at the back. Playing on the edge is a delicate balance typified by no player better than the much maligned megastar that is, “Super” Mario Balotelli.
What can one say about the man that was run out of Italy after burning every bridge he met, other than he is Italy’s greatest chance at doing well in this years European Championship. Despite having the seasoned goal scorer, yet seldom used, Di Natale on the squad as well, Italy’s goal scoring will come down in large part to Balotelli’s efficiency in front of the net.
Expect the aforementioned Di Natale to be relegated to the bench while Cassano partners with Balotelli, the creative play of Cassano will be needed in order to feed the beast that is Super Mario. Balotelli’s ability and talent cannot be overstated or underestimated as he has the kind of magic that few others do, able to create a goal where many others wouldn’t know what to do with the ball. Despite the fact that Ballotelli’s talent is so tremendous, it is equaled by his fluxuating temperament and unpredictable behaviour on and off the pitch.
If Ballotelli can keep a calm head and perform on the field, Italy may go a long way to shocking many fans and recreating the magic they felt only a few short years ago at the 2006 World Cup; yet, England supporters know well the perils that lie in placing a nation’s hope in the hands of a young and talented footballer, known to lose his control – ahem 1998 *cough* Mr. Beckham.
The new (and improved) Italian team since the last European Championship and World Cup tournaments will be bolstered by the fact that its defensive core is largely made up of league winning, and undefeated, Juventus team. Italy will have its keeper, centre backs, left back, and defensive midfield littered with Juventus gold.
Having these defensive positions made up from one team will allow for the attacking half of the Italian squad to play with a freedom and confidence stemming from the fact that they know that the men behind them will know how to deal with any opponents attack.
With this distinction in player selection, the movement to attacking football can even be found. Allowing for these players to cement the defensive roles and responsibilities, allows for the rest of the squad to experiment and explore their attacking football.
De Rossi will be allowed to roam a bit further up the pitch, Cassano, Giovinco, Marchisio, Nocerino, Balotelli will all be given freedom to attack with a flavour of football that opponents will not be expecting from the stereotypically defensive Italians.
The Italians look to kickoff their tournament against defending European and World champions Spain on June 10th, and this game will go a long way to determining their style of play for the rest of the tournament. If Prandelli is foolish enough to attempt to “setup shop” against the Spaniards and Italy still loses, they will be forced to take the game to Croatia and the Republic of Ireland in their following two games, opening up the doors to the attacking football that the Italians are capable of playing.
If Italy manages a draw or even a win playing more defensively, however, we may see Prandelli opt to maintain the defensive mentality. In the end it may be best for Italy to play Spain more defensively than the football fan would want, but with the attacking speed and pace that the Italians possess in the likes of Super Mario, anything is possible.
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