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Rami Soufi On October - 20 - 2010

Italian Football Still A Force In Europe

Italy struggled in the World Cup suffering from a humiliating early exit despite being in one of the weakest groups which included New Zealand. More recently the Italian Under-21 succumbed to Belarus in a surprising manner after taking a 2-0 home win only to see it erased by an embarrassing 3-0 score in Belarus. As for the Azzurri, coach Cesare Prandelli has been gradually introducing change but the national team has yet to fire on all cylinders and the absence of emerging youngster Mario Balotelli cannot be used as an excuse.

A team of Italy’s stature cannot be over dependent on a single player no matter who he is or what he can do. The reality of the matter is the absence of Gianluigi Buffon and the aging of Andrea Pirlo as well as the decline in Italy’s supremacy on the defensive end have cost the Azzurri dearly since the World Cup 2006 triumph. There are no apparent heirs to the likes of Alessandro Nesta and Fabio Cannavaro, but there is no point delving deep into the obvious as Andrea Ranocchia and Leonardo Bonucci are certainly not defenders on the level of legends such as Cannavaro.

While many critics of Serie A wait for every opportunity to attack the Italian top flight, those same critics fail to note that Inter won the Champions League last season while a number of stars such as Wesley Sneijder, Samuel Eto’o, Alexandre Pato and Ronaldinho grace the playing fields of the peninsula. This summer two high profile names, albeit controversial for different reasons, joined Milan in the shape of Zalatan Ibrahimovic and Robinho.

Milan did lose 2-0 to Real Madrid but this does not take away from the quality of the players on the Rossoneri squad. The Rossoneri could exact revenge on Los Galacticos when the two teams meet again at the San Siro. One match cannot label a team as a failure, particularly when the two goals came via some defensive mistakes. Inter remain the champions of Europe until they are officially eliminated in the competition while the Azzurri are managing to grind results in their qualifiers for Euro 2012 despite the minor hiccup in Northern Ireland and the unfortunate violence which accompanied the suspended clash with Serbia.

On a good note, the Italian league is showing signs of becoming more competitive with Inter, Milan, Lazio, Napoli and Juventus all competing for top spots while the Spanish La Liga will eventually become a two-horse race between Barcelona and Real Madrid. Last season the two Spanish giants were at least 25 points ahead of the third place club Valencia. In Italy Inter and Roma finished at least 10 points ahead of Milan in third which is identical to the gap between second place Manchester United and Arsenal in 2009/10 in the English Premier League. This season the first two clubs in the Premiership, Chelsea and Manchester City, are managed by Italians Carlo Ancelotti and Roberto Mancini. Ancelotti has already established himself in England by winning the Premier League and FA Cup double while Mancini has the necessary funding to turn the Citizens to title contenders as shown by the current standings.

Perhaps the best evidence of the effect the two Italian managers are having on their teams is the result of their clash which ended in a 1-0 victory for the Citizens courtesy of Carlos Tevez. While the two teams did not start any Italians, the manner with which the game was played could have easily been mistaken for an Italian derby as the opposing sides proceeded to follow a strategic plot similar to a game of chess as opposed to the relentless and breathtaking pace which normally defines and distinguishes the Premiership from the other European leagues.

Italian coaches have also been demand on the international level with several at the helm of national teams such as Japan and England who are managed by Alberto Zaccheroni and Fabio Capello respectively. Italy’s top flight is renowned for the mastery of tactics and strategies which is evident in the demand for Italian coaches by clubs in England and on the international level in the case of the Republic of Ireland who are managed by Giovanni Trapattoni.

The Azzurri coach Prandelli was known for trying to incorporate youngsters while at Fiorentina and for nurturing young players such as Stevan Jovetic and Adem Ljajic. Prandelli immediately called up Mario Balloteli in his first match in charge of the Azzurri and has established Leonardo Bonucci as the starting centre-back partner for the more experienced Giorgio Chiellini. Italian football might be facing certain issues but it still remains a force in Europe as the Azzurri are just four years removed from their fourth star after the triumph in Germany while Inter are current holders of the Champions League. Prandelli will need time to prove Italy can still compete but the main concern remains the inability of young talented Italian players to crack the starting XI of Serie A clubs not because of their lack of quality but due to a culture focused on achieving victories and avert to taking risks.

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