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Qasa Alom On October - 12 - 2011

Azzurri Review: Italy 3-0 N Ireland

Inspired performances by Andrea Pirlo and Antonio Cassano lead Italy to a memorable 3-0 victory over an ordinary Northern Ireland side in Pescara. Qasa Alom reports

AC Milan’s Antonio Cassano was warned prior to the match that this would be his last chance in the national set-up after offensive comments to a journalist last week – and FantAntonio really didn’t disappoint with a brilliant brace.

However it was his striker partner and this years form player Sebastian Giovinco who started off brightly; full of confidence and enthusiasm, the Parma forward exchanged a sharp one two at the edge of the box before firing off a range finder that didn’t trouble the keeper Maik Taylor too much.

Meanwhile at the other end a long hopeful ball hoofed into the box similar caused chaos in the Italy box but unfortunately for the visitors no player was sharp enough to take advantage. The move was very similar to the shock goal that Ivica Olic scored for Croatia against the Italians in the 2002 World Cup.

The first half evolved into Northern Ireland understandably sitting deep and repelling Italy’s fluent and organic style of play. Italy tipped and tapped together neat passes and retained the ball with ease, combining a short and precise passing game with plenty of balls over the top of the away sides defensive line for the likes of Cassano, Giovinco and the two trailblazing fullbacks Mattia Cassani and Federico Balzaretti to get onto.

Much of this went through Andrea Pirlo as the former Milan man continued his renaissance by rolling back the years and displaying some of the form that got him to fifth in the World Player of the Year rankings back in 2007. Il Genio was a director, orchestrator, quarter back and general all in one, metronomically moving things from side to side and back to forth, with practically every other pass returning to his wand-like feet before continuing up the field.

However a lot of the Juventus midfielder’s ability to dictate the match was as a result of the energetic performances of his midfield counterparts and forward pairing. The likes of Daniele De Rossi, Riccardo Montolivo and Alberto Aquilani constantly rotated positions, sometimes hogging the touch line, sometimes popping up at the top of the midfield diamond, and constantly creating angles and holes for Pirlo to take advantage of that resulted in Italy averaging more than 70% of the possession in the first half.

However the real headline act was Antonio Cassano; the Bari native reveled in his free role, turning up on both wings, dropping short into the channels, as well as running beyond the shoulder of the last defender. It was his excellent off the ball movement combined with a moment of absolute class that created the first goal midway through the first half.

Up until that point, although Italy had been completely dominant, they had failed to create many clear cut chances apart from a corner that flashed dangerously across the face of the goal. Yet a ball clipped over the top from De Rossi after another patient move from the home side, released Cassano, who on this instance timed his run to perfection and waited for the ball to fall over his right shoulder before sweetly volleying it into the opposing corner of the goal from 8 yards out.

Italy were galvanised from the goal and continued to concentrate play down the right hand side. There were plenty of diagonal balls over the top from Il Maestro for Cassani to exploit and stretch the space behind the full back, which almost resulted in a second, but the Fiorentina full back couldn’t connect properly.

There was a scare for the Italians in the 27th minute, as a ball was whipped in deep from the right hand side and headed powerfully down into the corner, but it took a vintage Buffon save to keep the score at 1-0.

The game was beginning to open up and Northern Ireland has a shout for a penalty turned down when Balzarreti was struggling to keep up with Andrew Little and seemed to bring him down from behind in the box, but as the striker got his shot off the referee decided it was a fair challenge.

Giovinco twisted and turned his way into a decent position in the 33rd minute but he fired over the top of the goal. The Parma man’s fearless attitude and willingness to try something different was a breath of fresh air but it’s evident that there he’s still a work in progress.

Antonio Cassano almost doubled his tally in the 36th minute, when his run split the centre backs in half and he was free to clip yet another inch perfect Pirlo pass into the net, but the goalkeeper Maik Taylor anticipated the move and smothered the chance.

Italy really should have gone into the changing rooms more than one goal up with a fantastic team move, unsurprisingly again again started by Pirlo who shifted the ball to the right hand side to Montolivo who’s cutback across the box from the right wing failed to end up in the back of the net and Giovinco’s resultant volley from close range forced a smart save.

The second half started much like the first ended, with Italy keeping Northern Ireland at arm’s length. It seems like there were clear orders to create more of a direct goal threat from the home side though, as Antonio Cassano took an ambitious shot from 35 yards that was deflected out for a corner, before Aquialini wriggled through three players to fire a powerful shot on target and finally Montolivo shot powerfully low and wide within the first few minutes.

Antonio Cassano finally doubled his and Italy’s score in the 53rd minute with a flowing midfield move that ended up with Aquilani slipping the Milan forward in to finish clinically into the far corner from the edge of the box.

Italy were now swarming all over Northern Ireland with the players queuing up to take shots. The likes of Montolivo De Rossi and Aquilani were growing into the game, and taking up more advanced positions and under the tutelage of Pirlo, left the away side chasing shadows.

Shortly after the hour mark, Pablo Osvaldo came on for his Azzurri debut but was a rather peripheral figure, who found it difficult to provide the same sort of game style that the rest of the team were attempting.

Northern Ireland wasted a couple of dangerous moves, with yet again more long balls over the top causing problems, evidently a cause for concern in the Azzurri camp that better opposition will capitalize on unlike substitute Neal McGinn who was left one on one with Buffon but rashly blasted over.

Encouragingly Italy, hunted for a third goal and almost had one from a Spain-esque move of slow tiki-taka passes, then a quickening of the tempo that released Fiorentina captain Riccardo Montolivo to shoot from the right edge of the box. The attempt was destined for the corner before Taylor desperately turned it around the post.

Italy did indeed find the elusive third goal with fifteen minutes to spare when yet another Pirlo grenade landed perfectly for Balzaretti to cushion across the goal and force a ricochet off of the defender into the open goal.

Yet they were not done yet and refreshingly continued their search for even more goals. Giovinco looked to cap off an encouraging first senior start with a goal in a similar scenario to that of Cassano’s first goal, but the pint size forward couldn’t get the ball past Taylor.

Overall unlike many other games, when Italy have defended themselves with a “results before the performance” response, Prandelli and all Azzurri fans will have plenty of reasons to be positive after the match. Although the opposition was sub-standard, Italy’s energetic approach to the game, continuing to search for a goal and retaining the ball is to be applauded. In addition, the professional performances of the fullbacks, and truly majestic displays from Pirlo and Cassano mean that the team does have genuine World Class players in the side.

The main issue though for Italy is having many players who are brilliant at playing secondary roles in the performance and not enough men who have that necessary clutch quality to become protagonists. The likes of De Rossi, Aquilani and Montolivo moved the ball fluidly, tipping and tapping the ball around and running for the team, but is that enough? Even the aforementioned talismen, Pirlo and Cassano have their limitations, with the former preferring to play a director’s role from the back and the latter not yet showing the consistency to bear the weight of a nation’s expectation. When he first took over the team, Cesare Prandelli said he wanted Italy to start playing football again, and wanted a complete shift in mentality; on this performance it’s clear to see that this has been achieved, yet this is only the end of the first phase, now he needs to make the side master it.

Qasa Alom

Broadcast Journalist. Writer for Serieaweekly, subtitled online or anyone else daft enough to want me. These are my thoughts (even the clever ones)

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