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Julian De Martinis On March - 30 - 2011

Six Things Italy Learned: Reviewing Italy-Ukraine

Much changed and much accomplished. Cesare Prandelli continues his brilliant run with the Italian National Team with a two-nil victory over Ukraine. What exactly can Italy fans take away from this? Here are six points worth noting.

Cesare Prandelli is the new Tinkerman. A better one. Claudio Ranieri, the old “Tinkerman”, has become somewhat infamous for tinkering in all the wrong ways. For the former Chelsea boss, a set starting eleven is as a spider to an arachnophobe : something to be avoided at all costs, only to be looked at from a safe distance, preferably from another building . Yet the most that the ex-Roma coach ever won was an exit slip from nearly every team he managed. Prandelli, on the other hand, demonstrated tinkering done right on the night. Only four players remained from the team that beat Slovenia 1-0 in Euro 2012 qualifying: Christain Maggio, Giorgio Chiellini, Alberto Aquilani, and Riccardo Montolivo. Despite the seven changes to the side, Italy still emerged victorious. Depth is finally beginning to emerge from the peninsula, after years of clinging onto a fading Golden Generation due to a perceived lack of decent alternatives.

Emiliano Viviano is the way; Salvatore Sirigu is a backup’s backup. Gianluigi Buffon has once again re-established himself as the undisputed number one for Italy following a stellar performance against Slovenia, but the question marks surrounding his backup may finally be cleared up. Viviano has kept a clean sheet in every game he has played for the senior side since Prandelli has taken over, with the exception of a friendly against Romania, and put in a number of quite superb saves against Ukraine. Although still somewhat mistake prone- he memorable mistimed a punch on a corner- Emiliano has done everything necessary to establish himself firmly in contention to be Italy’s number two. Having a goalkeeper as solid as Sirigu as the third option, at any rate, is hardly cause for concern.

Players really need to listen for the whistle. First Robin van Persie, and now Davide Astori; being sent off for kicking the ball after a whistle is blown is quickly becoming a new, horrible trend. Although both decisions were rather harsh, both were second yellows and technically justifiable within the laws of the game. Astori’s sending off meant that Italy had to play the final sixteen minutes with ten men, a decision that may have haunted them had Devic’s goal not been ruled out for a tight offside call late on.

Giuseppe Rossi needs to start. Superb for Villareal for quite a few seasons now, and nearly always impressive in the blue: it has become time for Prandelli to nail Rossi’s name onto the teamsheet. Sympathies to Cesare, however, as there are more question marks up front than there are anywhere else in this Italy side. Should Mario Balotelli’s prodigious talent be overlooked due to behavioral issues at the club level? Is Giampaolo Pazzini or Alessandro Matri the answer for the prima punta spot? Does Antonio Cassano deserve to start anymore? Cesare has many headaches in terms of attackers, but Rossi should not be one of them. The New Jersey native has both the poaching prowess to be a thorn in the defense of any side-as evidenced by his goal- and the creative class to feed those around him: just ask any team in La Liga.

The fullback issue is an issue no more. Many issues exist- issues about Italian wingers; issues such as world hunger and the war in Libya; issues of Time magazine. The Azzurri fullback position? Not an issue. Federico Balzaretti and Maggio have fully earned their roles in the meritocracy. Balzaretti did enough in his sophomore waltz last game, and combined with Daniele Gastaldello’s indifferent performance in this friendly, it seems as though it is the Palermo man who should feature for Italy. Maggio has impressed both games and adds much verve to the attack whilst remaining solid at the back: immensely impressive for a man who plays as a wingback week in and week out at Napoli.

Italy is fun again. Stereotypes are being thrown out the proverbial window under Prandelli’s reign. The old, defensive Italian sides of yore are being replaced by a side that focuses on smart possession play, whilst crucially not risking defensive solidarity. There is creativity dripping from nearly every asset of the side, from the aforementioned fullbacks to the center of midfield where Alberto Aquilani pulls the strings delightfully to the frontline where Rossi, Balotelli, and Cassano are free to perform their artistry.

It may have just been a friendly, but Italy put in a performance worthy enough of an official match. That may be the true indication of how far Cesare has taken Gli Azzurri.

Julian De Martinis

Calcio, Azzurri, and Roma tifosi. Blogger, correspondent, podcast host (@LaMagicast). Lover of books, movies, wordplay, family, and a good cappuccino.

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