In what can only be seen as an incredible fall from grace, it is unbelievable how over a period of four years, the 2006 World Cup Champions have gone from producing stunning displays of disciplined and tactically sound football, to finishing bottom of their group and becoming only the second defending champions to be knocked out in the group stage alongside 1998 World Champions France who crashed out in the group stages in 2002.
Of course it’s the Italian National Football Team, and I’m not going to sit here and say that I didn’t see it coming. There is nothing that I find more frustrating than watching a train wreck about to unfold and knowing there is nothing at all you can do about it, all the while knowing that measures could have been taken, and on the basis of their entire 2010 World Cup performance, should have been taken, in order to prevent such an embarrassment.
But who takes the blame for Italy’s dismal performances, and why? Since the drama that unfolded in the unsurprising 3-2 defeat at the hands of Slovakia (who, let’s face it, have been very poor themselves this World Cup), both players and the coach alike have come forward claiming they are to blame, but really there is only one culprit.
Their entire World Cup campaign can be summed up by looking at a brief analysis of their match against Slovakia. Italy went from a team that in 2006 conceded only two goals – one of which being Zinedine Zidane’s penalty in the final, and the back-line going a tremendous 460 consecutive minutes without conceding a goal, to conceding three very soft goals against a Slovakia side not exactly known for their attacking prowess.
Danielle De Rossi gave the ball away far too cheaply, allowing Robert Vittek to coolly slot the ball past a diving Marchetti, Fabio Cannavaro was caught flat footed as Vittek netted his second from point blank range, and to sum up their defending nightmare, Kamil Kopunek found the net with a delicious chip over Marchetti from, of all sources, a throw-in.
Many will point to Gianluigi Buffon’s injury as a major contributor to Italy’s leaky defense, and perhaps Buffon would’ve made a slight difference, as he is without doubt the best goalkeeper in world football (given his fitness), but Marchetti cannot be blamed for any of the three goals against Slovakia – and no goalkeeper in the world can be blamed when they are left to defend on their own.
Not only in defense, but also in attack, Italy was left wondering. The likes of Simone Pepe and Vincenzo Iaquinta do not even come close to legends of Italian Football like Alessandro Del Piero and Filippo Inzaghi. I would even go as far as to say handing Del Piero’s famous number 7 jersey to Simone Pepe is a disgrace to Italian Football. Overall there was not a lack of attacking players, but a lack of players with natural goal scoring ability that let the Italian team down when it needed goals.
But Italy’s problems extend far further than just a leaky back-line and their inability in the final third, and their nightmare at this World Cup stretches far further than just the beginning of the tournament, and there is only one person to blame.
The coach crucified his country before the World Cup even started with his shocking squad selections. Thankfully, Italy’s elimination signals the end of Lippi’s tenure as coach, and I begin to wonder what would have become of Italy at the hands of the Netherlands should they have progressed to the round of 16.
Okay, Lippi admitted he was at fault, but that’s not good enough. There’s no way, being Italian myself I can accept this apology. In fact Lippi owes the whole of the Italian nation a groveling apology. Yes, he was the mastermind in 2006, but in 2010, he is perhaps the greatest villain in Italian football, and this is down to his stubborn and selfish squad selection.
Lippi has overlooked some of the best players available for selection due to unnecessary politics and petty feuds.
Enter: Antonio Cassano, Mario Balotelli and Fabrizio Miccoli. Three players that could’ve provided an extra dimension to Italy’s national squad, but all left out for ridiculous reasons, all of which have nothing to do with the spirit of football. Lippi has a long and drawn out personal feud with Cassano, he finds Balotelli arrogant, and Miccoli testified against Luciano Moggi.
Without getting too much into the politics surrounding the squad selection, it’s clear that each of these three players add a new dimension to any team. Antonio Cassano is a known goal scorer, and scores for fun, Fabrizio Miccoli had an outstanding season with Palermo, almost guiding them to Champions League football, and Mario Balotelli brings youth, eccentricity and speed up front, something the current Italian squad lacks.
Yet, despite there being much better players available for selection, Lippi chose to stick with the ‘old guard’. There’s no doubting the ability of some players, but iconic captain Fabio Cannavaro and Gianluca Zambrotta are too old, Simone Pepe is not of international calibre at all, Danielle De Rossi plays for Roma and Roma only and Vincenzo Iaquinta can’t hit the back of the net with a clean strike even if he wanted to.
Not only were these extremely visible in all three World Cup games they played, they were there long before the World Cup started and Lippi made no effort to right his wrongs.
Lippi in fact only brought three world-class performers with him to South Africa. Andrea Pirlo spent the all but thirty minutes on the bench, not yet fully recovered from an injury, Gianluigi Buffon was injured in the first game and played only forty-five minutes the entire tournament, and Giorgio Chiellini simply did not shine. There’s no doubting the world-class ability of these three players, but when these players were unable to shine, no one was able to step into their roles and put in a solid performance.
For these reasons, it is Lippi who must take all the blame for Italy’s failure at this World Cup. I was embarrassed watching a team that looked sluggish, mediocre and seemingly out of ideas, and the blame falls entirely on Lippi’s shoulders.
There are two positives to come from Italy’s early exit from this World Cup. Firstly, Marcello Lippi has retired from his post and Italy can now look forward to a new era under Cesare Prandelli, who if nothing else, will pick players based on their performances and not politics. Secondly, and finally, the squad has hit rock bottom, and the only way to go from this early World Cup exit is up, and I personally look forward to seeing a revamped Italian squad in the near future under Cesare Prandelli.