Guest writer/Matthew Coccoluto
With international break again upon us, a few European countries will be squaring off in the Euro 2012 playoff rounds. The rest will be using these upcoming friendlies to further prepare for the tournament in June. Cesar Prandelli will be without some key players as they face Poland on Friday and host Uruguay on Tuesday. The big news leading up to the international break was the loss of Giuseppe Rossi and Antonio Cassano for six months. Rossi is currently recovering from a knee injury while Cassano recovers from heart surgery. Both players could very well be back in time for Euro, Rossi more so than Cassano, and Prandelli has stated he expects both to be healthy in time for the tournament. In the meantime, the manager has an opportunity to tinker with his attack, and reward some other players for their current form.
Since Prandelli has taken over he has attempted to make a complete team strong in both the defensive end and the attacking third. In qualifying for Euro, the Azzurri netted a very solid 20 goals while only allowing 2. Rossi and Cassano have both been key to the Azzurri attack and their absence is a serious concern for the coach as well as fans. Fortunately there are some quality players who are waiting to get their shot. Sebastian Giovinco, who started the last game against Northern will also be missing from the upcoming fixtures due to a slight muscle injury. It is unfortunate for Seba, as he would have been the most likely to fill in the role for Giuseppe Rossi. Arguably one of the most in form strikers right now is Mario Balotelli who has been electrifying for Manchester City this season. He has already made regular appearances for Prandelli and one can expect his role to increase in the upcoming matches without Rossi, Cassano, and Giovinco. The other typical fixture upfront has been Giampaolo Pazzini. The two partnered together at the end of the match against the Faroe Islands and Prandelli can rely on them as a safe option up front. That does not go to say that there aren’t some other options that may prove to be more effective.
Alessandro Matri has been recalled to the squad along with Roma striker Osvaldo. Alessandro Matri had issues in the beginning of the season for Juventus as Antonio Conte kept switching up his formations sometimes opting for a lone striker in the form of Mirko Vucinic. However in the last three matches he has been one of the best players for the Old Lady and rightfully deserved his call-up to the national squad. In Matri’s last three games he has found the back of the net three times, while also producing a handful of other opportunities. Late in the game against Fiorentina, even after Conte had switched to a defensive formation, he was able to pester the defense by himself. Osvaldo has started almost every match this season for Roma, and has scored five times in Serie A this season. Osvaldo has struggled in some games and his goal scoring has been hit or miss, as Roma are still struggling to find consistency. Both players have showed a lot of heart and determination to become regulars in Prandelli plans. In a 10-a-side game during training this week Matri and Osvaldo each had a hat trick. There current form is worth noting as Prandelli may op to pair the two strikers together.
Another large story coming out of the Italy attack is the exclusion of Antonio Di Natale. There has been no shortage of support both within the country and internationally for Toto to be recalled to Gli Azzurri. There is no doubting his talent for Udinese as he is on pace for his third consecutive Capocannoniere, a feat last accomplished by Michel Platini (1982-1985). There is still a chance that Di Natale is called on for Euro, especially if Cassano and Rossi are still concerns, but Prandelli knows what he is getting with Antonio and there is no need to call him now when there are other players who could better benefit from these upcoming matches. Di Natale is the type of player who can adjust to a team very easily, so if asked to join the squad, he will be able to adapt quickly. Furthermore, Di Natale is getting up their in years (he is 34) and although he may be able to perform in Euro, Prandelli has made it no secret that he is also looking forward to the World Cup in Brazil. Di Natale has never truly been able to match his club form for the nation and it seems possible that he will be remembered as one of the players who were great for their club but could never get it together for the country.
With all the attention being taken by the attacking front the inclusion of Milan defender Ignazio Abate has been somewhat overlooked. The 24-year-old right back has been rewarded for his current form, as he will start on Friday against Poland, taking over the spot from Christian Maggio. This move will most likely be a temporary one but Maggio has addressed he welcomes the competition and both players can only benefit from it as they will push each other to perform their best. The upcoming friendlies are an opportunity for Prandelli to try some new tactics. Prandelli discussed the game with Poland saying that he will play the first half with his more standard style but switch things around for the second half. Prandelli will play his go to 4-3-1-2 but don’t be surprised if the inspiration of Antonio Conte comes into effect with Simone Pepe coming in to form a 4-3-3. Expect many changes to come out of the Italian squad, not only in these fixtures, but also throughout the months leading up to Euro 2012.