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Frank Tigani On November - 19 - 2010

The Declining Fortunes of the Azzurri

Traditionally Italy have always fared poorly in friendly matches. The Italian mentality is such that only in important matches do the players really put in the required effort. Clearly, this is not a real problem, after all when measuring a nations’ football success in terms of World Cup triumphs, Italy is second only to Brazil.

It is hard to imagine that in 2006, just four years ago, the Azzurri marched to victory in Berlin. Since this incredible but unexpected achievement, La Nazionale have been in sharp decline. Their pitifully dismal showing in South Africa made their European championship performance in 2008 seem like a success and they only made the quarter finals.

To date, Italy have only managed two wins in 2010, both coming against modest Estonia and whipping boys Faroe Islands. In this time, the Azzurri have succumbed to Ivory Coast, Slovakia and Mexico whilst having failed to beat the likes of New Zealand, Paraguay, Switzerland, Cameroon and Northern Ireland. It has been a bleak period indeed.

Against Romania on Wednesday night there was little evidence that the Azzurri are about to turn a leaf. Instead, it was another uninspiring and discouraging performance.

The Italian’s play lacked pace, a characteristic derived from the Serie A no doubt. There were also a number of simple technical mistakes including misplaced passes and heavy touches. It is disbelieving that this would even pass as a thought but perhaps there is even a lack of technical quality with some of the Italian players.

After watching the France and England game, along with the Portuguese thumping of Spain and of course the pick of the bunch, Argentina and Brazil, one is left with the impression that there is a real gap between the Italian team and the national teams aforementioned.

France and Portugal were particularly impressive. Their play was fluid, quick and of a high technical quality. The same can be said of both Brazil and Argentina whose quality seldom is ever in doubt and is especially always on show when they take to the same field.

It leaves one begging the question – just how far have the Azzurri regressed? Are there such grave factors underlying the dismal period the Azzurri are experiencing such as the players not being good enough?

In defence of the Azzurri, it was only just a friendly match and like mentioned earlier the Italians tend to put little effort in such matches of limited importance.

In addition, it was a friendly match that Coach Cesare Prandelli used to experiment with new personnel. No less than four players were given their debut against the Romanians.

Of the players that debuted, only Andrea Ranocchia and Federico Balzaretti can be content with their competent but not great showings. As for Andrea Diamanti and Christian Ledesma, the less said the better. The two were awful and would have done little to convince Prandelli.

The Azzurri did improve when changes were made, in particular when Ledesma and Diamanti came off for Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi.

But even after changes were made when several more recognisable Azzurri members took to the field, the Azzurri still struggled to break down a modest Romanian side. Indeed, in the end the Italians only found the equaliser through what was a messy goal that eventually went down as an own goal.

For the past year, the sight of the Azzurri struggling to break down modest sides has become a sight all too familiar for Italian fans. In the world cup, Italy struggled to create opportunities against New Zealand, needing a penalty to even the tie. The same occurred against Slovakia when down by a goal and needing to win the Italians were unable to unlock even a Slovakian defence.

The same occurred against Cameroon before the world cup and most recently against Northern Ireland.

There is something terribly wrong with the current Italian national team and it cannot be down to just the wrong tactics, the players must be part of the problem.

Quite simply, they may just not be good enough. Sure, the likes of Daniele De Rossi, Andrea Pirlo, Alberto Aquilani, Davide Santon, Leonardo Bonucci, Stefano Mauri, just to name a few, turn out for top Italian sides like AC Milan, Inter, Juventus and Lazio on a regular basis. Yet this does not mean much. Certainly in Italy these teams are competitive but on the European stage they have all struggled particularly this season including reigning European champions Inter.

It may all come down to the modest standard of Serie A. Once the best league in the world boasting the best players, Italy’s top division has been ravaged by scandal, corruption and infighting that have seen it decline in recent years.

Now, not only has Italian football declined at club level, but this decline is also greatly affecting the fortunes of the national team.

Cesare Prandelli has a monumental task on his hands. To rejuvenate a national side that has great expectations amongst its fans with a group of players that is perhaps the weakest in living memory thanks in no small part to the now modest standard of the Italian game.

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