23 million people watched as the Azzurri defied their critics and defeated the French 2-0 in a spectacular night in Zurich. Now they face two world-class strikers and a team which have produced some of the best form at the tournament, whereas the Italians have been pretty poor in their past matches.
But the question is: can the never-tiring midfield and counter-attacking tactics of Italy overturn the fast-paced passing game of the Spaniards and reach the semi-finals? I will assess their chances.
Italy played like they played at the World Cup, which was nothing short of outstanding. They replicated the tantalizing play of their games against Germany and France at Germany 2006.
However, they do have a major setback: two of their best midfielders, including star player Andrea Pirlo, are suspended for their next match. Gennaro Gattuso is the other suspended player, who has a lot of grit and managed to stop most of the French attacks with well-placed tackles. However, Massimo Ambrosini, Simone Perrotta, Alberto Aquilani and Alessandro Del Piero seem good enough to do the job.
The defense was solid against Les Bleus, and proved that it doesn’t need Fabio Cannavaro to do well, but also showed that time is taking its toll on Marco Materazzi and that Andrea Barzagli is still pretty raw.
Luca Toni spearheaded an attack that wreaked havoc on the weak French defense and were unlucky to only score two goals. In fact, Luca Toni had a perfect chance early in the first half but completely squandered it, shooting it over the bar. But Antonio Cassano looks strong enough to help out, and, in case of failure, one between Antonio Di Natale, Alessandro Del Piero, and Fabio Quagliarella are all worthy candidates for the attacking spot.
Gianluigi Buffon made an amazing save that stopped Karim Benzema from giving the French hope, and if he plays like he did against Romania where he stopped two powerful shots from the Romanians and also saved a penalty from Adrian Mutu, then Italy will know they have a strong base to fall back on.
All I have left to say is: FORZA AZZURRI!!!