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A 1-1 draw against the reigning world champions can be counted as a good result for the Azzurri despite the injuries and off field distractions. Cesare Prandelli utilized the much talked about 3-5-2 after experimenting with the unorthodox formation in training last week, with the back three comprised of Juventus duo of Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, plus Daniele De Rossi making his international debut as a center back. Up front the attack was also as expected, as was most of the midfield; with singular squad exception being a surprise start for Emanuele Giaccherini, at left wing-back in his international debut.

La Roja formation was more unorthodox for international play, starting with a striker less 4-3-3/4-6-0 and a ‘false nine’ in the form of Cesc Fabregas (Roma fans will remember this formation under Luciano Spaletti). Again, the match started as most figured it would with Spain stroking the ball around as Italy pressed and looked to hit the Spanish on the break. It had worked out well for the Italians, especially when long diagonals were played out from either De Rossi or Pirlo to the flanks, usually in the direction of Antonio Cassano, who was Italy’s best player in the first half. The Barese attacker drifted from flank to flank, but found the most space on the Spanish right, teeing up a Claudio Marchisio volley that was hit directly at Iker Casillas. The best chance for Prandelli’s men came near the end of the first half, with Cassano sending in a cross from the right to a streaking Thiago Motta, forcing Casillas into an excellent save.

On the defensive side of things, Italy did well to keep the Spanish attack at bay, as the trio of Fabregas, David Silva, and Andres Iniesta lacked a certain thrust once the ball reached the Italian penalty area. Once the Spanish reached the Italian goal, they either hit weak shots, passed it back to a teammate, or were snuffed out by excellent Italian tackling. Only Iniesta offered a certain amount of directness, pushing the defense back with some good runs on the ball, forcing Gigi Buffon into a couple saves. De Rossi in particular produced some excellent defending for someone who only started playing as a central defender this season.Italy were the better side in the first half with their defense, pressing, and smart play from Cassano in the attack; Spain, outside of Iniesta, looked too content to simply pass their way into the net.

The second half Spain played with more urgency, with Iniesta again forcing Buffon into two great saves. The Azzurri had arguably the best chance to score up to that point when Mario Balotelli dispossessed Sergio Ramos on the right and headed towards goal only for Ramos to track back and tackle the ball away from the dawdling Balotelli, who took too much time to make a decision. Soon after, Antonio Di Natale replaced the Manchester City man. The substitution would prove to be an inspired one, as ‘Totò’ expertly tucked the ball away thanks to a typically excellent pass from Andrea Pirlo.

Unfortunately, the lead would only last four minutes, as the Spanish capped off a stylish move with a goal by Fabregas; David Silva’s wonderful flick took out three Italian defenders, with Fabregas being able to slip through and put the ball past Buffon. Spain had the better of Italy for the rest of the match, mainly down to Spanish substitutes Jesus Navas and Fernando Torres, in spite of his terrible finishing. Navas helped provide more width, which caused the Italian defense some problems, while Torres found a lot of space, fortunately for Italy however, his finishing and decision making was poor, as it had been for most of the season. Despite this, the best chance in the final quarter of the match fell to Di Natale; a scooped pass from Sebastian Giovinco found Di Natale in the box, however, the Udinese striker struck the ball wide.

A draw was probably the fairest result given how the match played out. The Azzurri were the better side in the first half while Spain had the better of the Italians in the second. The 3-5-2 worked well for Italy, however, they did have trouble once Torres came on, but this could also be attributed to tiredness as well. The question now is whether Prandelli will stick with the same formation against Croatia or revert back to his primary 4-3-1-2.



Buffon 7: Did a typically fine job when called upon, particularly stonewalling Torres like a center back

Chiellini/Bonucci 6.5: Both did the job they were asked to do, playing tough defense and tackling well. Bonucci did have some trouble against Iniesta, and his bad tackle on the Barcelona midfielder could have been a red.

De Rossi 7.5: Exceeded most expectations of his playing in an unfamiliar role, defender well and was particularly good with distribution out of defense. Italy’s best performer.

Maggio 6: Ran a lot, worked hard for the team, but didn’t really produce a whole lot offensively

Marchisio 6.5: Lots of pressing and covered a lot of ground. Had two excellent chances, the volley in the first half, and an excellent run in the second that nearly produced a goal.

Pirlo 7: Assisted Di Natale goal, distributed well for the most part, 6 of 9 on long balls

Thiago Motta 6.5: Same as Marchisio, also had an excellent chance to score in the first half

Giaccherini 6.5: Similar to Maggio, gets the extra half point for this being his first cap (you’d never think it by watching him though)

Cassano 7: Italy’s biggest threat offensively in the first half, found space and created problems for the Spanish defense

Balotelli 6: Loses half a point for squandering a great chance to score or set up another player but put in a decent shift otherwise

Di Natale 7.5: Scored, and nearly had another later on. Goods runs, and looked lively. Decent chance he might start on Thursday

Giovinco 6.5: Nearly had an assist for Di Natale

Nocerino s.v.


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