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Cesare Prandelli’s Italy side is somewhat odd. Gli Azzurri are historically known for defensive football, but the former Fiorentina tactician envisions his side playing a brand of attractive, smart passing play. On the basis of the game against Slovenia, Italy are on the right track to success although not quite there yet. A lack of a cutting edge and questions over one role in particular hinder this Italy side from reaching greatness, but three points on the night was fully deserved.

Prandelli may be finally getting the Azzurri side he’s always wanted. Italy dominated large parts of the game, keeping possession very smoothly and devoting large amounts of personnel to attack. The game, by no means a spectacle of joga bonito, was nevertheless relatively comfortable for Italy. Whatever got past the midfield was usually expertly handled by the Juventus center back duo of Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, both of whom made numerous interceptions to keep the ball away from the goal. When worse came to worse, Gianluigi Buffon matched the heroics performed by Samir Handanovic throughout the match to keep Italy with a clean sheet.

Buffon’s role deserves special mention due to his perceived dip in form at his club side. The Juventus man has hardly looked like the world’s best keeper since returning from injury in January, but on the night’s showing, form may be returning. Club form and national team form are hardly inherently linked- just look at Lukas Podolski- but many had been calling for Buffon to be dropped for Salvatore Sirigu, or the less popular choice, Emiliano Viviano. It remains to be seen if either of them could have pulled off the saves that Gigi did on the night, but it is doubtful. Buffon appeared completely re-invigorated as the captain of the national team he represented one hundred and three times previously, and Juventus fans will be delighted to know that more than a hint of the old Gigi remains. It merely had to don blue to be recalled.

It was most of the Juventus players who truly shined on the night. Besides the solid aforementioned pair of Chiellini and Bonucci, the once-Bianconero Federico Balzaretti illustrated that the left flank is his to dominate. A rather mediocre debut showing under Prandelli was followed by a much improved sophomore exhibition, where both the Palermo fullback’s attacking and defensive prowess was put on display. Christain Maggio matched his utility on the right side. For the short term at least, the fullback problem with Italy appears to have been solved.

The trequartista issue, however, is still ripe for debate. Lazio’s Stefano Mauri was nearly invisible for the entire night, once again disappointing for the national side. Prandelli’s best option may be to play Antonio Cassano as a number ten, behind a front pairing of Giampaolo Pazzini and Giuseppe Rossi. The former hit the upright and looked much like the predator that Inter are surely delighted to have signed, whereas the latter has not yet disappointed in the blue shirt.

The midfield may require tinkering as well, if only because the side coped immensely with the absence of Daniele De Rossi. Riccardo Montolivo and Alberto Aquilani both had relatively comfortable games pulling the strings, whilst Thiago Motta provided defense coverage and scored the winning goal. There are doubts over whether these three could dominate against a side better than Slovenia, but on the night, plaudits were fully warranted.

However, Prandelli has larger issues to face. The team was slightly dependent upon the heroics of Buffon, which seems to this author to be slightly irrelevant despite being a rather common complaint. Barcelona are somewhat Lionel Messi dependent; Inter are surely Samuel Eto’ dependent; but when such a world class player players for a side, how can a team not come to rely on them in crucial moments? More worrying is the number of corner kicks conceded by the side- seven in the first half alone. A better side would have punished Italy far before Prandelli’s side scored. Furthermore, plenty of half-chances were wasted by the side, largely thanks to the astounding goalkeeping of Udinese goalkeeper Handanovic.

For now though, Italy can be proud of what the team has accomplished. Cesare is unbeaten since his debut friendly loss to the Ivory Coast, and gli Azzurri sit six points clear at the top of Group C in Euro 2012 qualifying. Minor issues aside, at the very least, Italy have shown that this is not the same team that went crashing out of the World Cup last year.

Doubters, beware.

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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