Football is cruel.
Italy, winners of a penalty shoot-out in the World Cup Finals in 2006, were dumped out of Euro 2008 after losing on penalties to Spain. Defeat, on penalties especially, is not easy to take. However, to proceed and to ensure Italy successfully defend their World Cup title, they would need to analyze what went wrong so as to better prepare for the future.
To that end, let’s begin with Italy’s defense. Apart from the 3-0 defeat against the Netherlands and Zambrotta’s howler, Italy’s defence, for most parts, played alright. Against Spain, they handled pretty much everything that was thrown at them. Furthermore, we knew Italy were going to have defensive problems after the loss of their influential captain Cannavaro. Luckily, the Chiellini and Panucci partnership went pretty well. In fact, it is not hyperbole to say that Chiellini was perhaps one of the Italy’s brightest star in the campaign. And since Chiellini is only 24 this year, Azzurris worldwide would be happy to know that he would continue to feature in the national side for many years to come.
Having said that, Italy’s backline is a rather old one and that could be worrying. Come 2010, Grosso would be 32, Zambrotta 33 and Panucci would almost surely have retired. Italy would need to find replacements. Fast. Happily, Italy have in Barzagli, Gamberini, Criscito and De Silverstri, a group of talented young defenders waiting to takeover.
In midfield, the line-up was practically identical to the one in the World Cup. All key members, Gattuso, Pirlo, Perrotta and Camoranesi kept their places. Sadly however, their performances this time were much poorer. This could be due to age and form, Gattuso especially, it seems, has lost much of his energy and wasn’t he usual terrier-like self, while Pirlo, with the exception of the game against France, was playing no where near the standard he did two years ago. In fact, his form for Milan this season has been remarkably poor.
Thankfully, Italy can look forward to a new generation of midfielders. De Rossi’s performance has been encouraging and Aquilani, I’m sure, will one day establish himself as a regular. The Azzurris can also look forward to exciting youngsters such as Cigarini, Dossena and Nocerino, just to name a few.
Offense was where Italy was poorest. Toni was exceptionally wasteful and unlike his usual reliable self. It is completely and utterly baffling for a man who has been banging it left, right and centre for Bayern in all competitions last season to end Euro 2008 goalless. The only logical explanation I could figure is that his misses in the game against the Netherlands affected him badly. Still, I would like to think that Toni is made of sterner stuff. To compound matters and in light of Toni’s form, it is puzzling why Donadoni chose not to, at some point, bring on Borriello.
And unfortunately, the future of Italy’s attack cannot be as rosy as their midfield. While it is true that Italy have some bright attacking talents in Montolivo, Giovinco and Rossi, they are lacking a big strong centre-forward that is so sought after in today’s game. At present, it would seem that Borriello is the only player that Italy have in the Toni mould, but despite a stellar last season with Genoa, his abilities are still suspect and only time would tell if he is really international football material.
Between the posts, Buffon cannot be faulted. If it wasn’t for him, Italy might not even have had the chance to play in the quarter-finals. But beyond him, Italy have no reliable stand-in, Amelia and De Sanctis, worryingly, have less than 10 caps between them. If there’s any consolation, Buffon at 30, should, baring any major injuries, have at least 8 good years ahead of him, giving Italy ample time to find a replacement.
Last, but not the least, the coach, Donadoni. Right from the get-go, this was never going to an easy job for the ex-Milan midfielder. He is inexperienced and new, but worse of all, he took over the squad right after their World Cup victory. Even without the World Cup victory, expectations for the Italy national team was always going to be high.
All things considered, Donadoni, can be said to have had a pretty decent campaign. I am convinced that he did the best he could and was perhaps only undone by lady luck. The controversial goal against the Netherlands and another goal disallowed against Romania could have been important turning points had things gone his way, but it was not to be.
In my opinion, his most glaring mistake would be the way he chose to stuck with Toni upfront, instead of taking a chance and bringing on Borriello. Yes, Toni might have been crucial in the game against France, by winning the penalty and getting Abidal sent off, but how many chances has he missed? On a positive note, Donadoni’s decision to drastically alter the backline after their insipid display against Netherlands was inspired and much needed.
And sadly for him, it seems that the Italian media is waiting for him to slip up so that a certain Marcello Lippi can return to helm the team.
Will Donadoni keep his job or will the still unemployed Lippi return? Only time will tell. But one thing is for sure, expect Italy to come back for World Cup 2010 stronger, spirited and with the desire to triumph.
The author Kenny maintains a personal blog called ‘The Meditation Chamber‘.