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Admittedly this is a late preview, but with all the tumult going on both inside the Azzurri camp and in Italian football as a whole, now is a good time to look at how Italy may fair at Euro 2012, what to expect and how Prandelli’s men compare to their group competitors.

First up is the injury problems Italy is facing, particularly in defense. Giorgio Chiellini is just coming off an injury suffered in Juventus’ last home game of the season, and Bianconero teammate Andrea Barzagli’s status for the tournament is still up in the air after suffering an injury during training; this is even before mentioning the fact that starting left-back Domenico Criscito has been removed from the squad due to his alleged involvement in the ongoing Calcioscommese scandal. Chiellini will, however, be ready for the group stage starting Sunday against reigning champions Spain. Andrea Pirlo also took a light knock and missed training earlier this week, but has since returned. The srtating full-backs Christian Maggio and Federico Balzaretti will be of great importance either in a back four or pushed up as wing-backs.

Italy under Cesare Prandelli have tended towards a very Italianesque 4-3-1-2 formation that relies heavily on the fullbacks providing width for the team. The ex-Fiorentina manager has also implemented a slicker offensive style that emphasizes neat passing and possession; however, they have had trouble finding the net recently, not scoring a goal in the past three friendlies, as seen in their 3-0 defeat to Russia last week. The long-term injury to Giuseppe Rossi has been of significant detriment to the side, as the striker was a perfect fit for Prandelli’s formation. Picking up the slack will be Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli, both of who are most likely to start against Spain. Sebastian Giovinco is coming off a career year with Parma and has impressed in appearances for the Azzurri. The one unknown is Roma’s Fabio Borini, who can offer directness and intelligent movement as a winger or striker.

As of Wednesday, the manager has experimented with a 3-5-2 in training, using Chiellini, Bonucci, and Daniele De Rossi in defense (De Rossi has played at center-back for Roma this year with mixed results). In theory, this could be The Azzurri’s proverbial ace up the sleeve, as it is a formation rarely seen at the international level and could have its advantages. It’s certainly possible to see Prandelli give it a go against the likes of Croatia and Ireland, but he will probably stick to the basics against Spain.

Midfield is Italy’s strongest area. Andrea Pirlo has come off a fantastic season with Juventus, and will be expected to orchestra play from deep just as he does for his club. Supporting him will be any combination of De Rossi, Claudio Marchisio, Antonio Nocerino, Riccardo Montolivo, and Thiago Motta, all of whom have good scoring records from midfield. Pirlo will sit deepest in the midfield, while ahead of him will be any of the aforementioned midfielders rotating their positions, making late runs into the area to finish off scoring opportunities. Wild-cards such as as Emanuele Giaccherini and Alessandro Diamanti will offer trickery and unpredictability off the bench.

Italy’s chances of getting out of the group stage are good; Spain will probably be the toughest of the three matches, however, Croatia and Ireland will offer problems of their own. While the Azzurri will be more focused on keeping the Spanish at bay, when facing the Croatians or the Irish, it will be Italy facing the more defensive sides. A draw against the Spain will not be the end of the world, and Italy should be intent on obtaining six points from Croatia and Ireland. In short, Italy are a good bet to get out of the group, most likely finishing in second. That would set up a potentially mouth-watering quarterfinal against old rivals France, which could definitely go either way.

A successful tournament for Italy would be to reach the semis, and getting to the final itself would be the icing on the cake. Many pundits recently are drawing comparisons to the World Cup winning team of 2006, but that mainly boils down to the explosive match-fixing scandals that both sides endured through, but for me that’s where the comparisons end. The team from six years ago was full of players at the peak of their careers while this side it is less so.


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