Inside Track: Italy
Sunday, 24 June, 2012
England last played Italy in an Elland Road friendly on 27 March 2002, the visitors winning 2-1.
How they got there
Italy topped their Euro 2012 Qualifying Group by ten points, winning eight and drawing two of their ten matches. They only conceded two goals. Placed in Group C in the Finals, they have played all their matches in Poland. They earned their quarter final with England by finishing runners-up to Spain after a 1-1 draw against the holders, another 1-1 draw against the feisty Croatians and a 2-0 win over a Republic of Ireland side which had already been knocked out.
Italy have won the World Cup four times, most recently in Berlin six years ago, and the European Championship once. They have always been expected to do well in the major tournaments since the ignominy of 1966. They edged Spain, the reigning World and European Champions, 2-1 in a friendly in Bari last August but the results in their most recent friendlies were disappointing. They lost to Uruguay, USA and Russia without scoring. The Azzurri looked tired towards the end of their three Group matches but gained enough points to progress.
In the dugout
Cesare Prandelli, 54, succeeded Marcello Lippi as head coach after the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. As a player he was a midfielder with Cremonese, Atalanta (two spells) and Juventus. He made a total of 197 Serie A appearances. As a coach he began with Atalanta’s youth team and had been in charge of Fiorentina for five years when the Federation appointed him to the top job in Italy. His official debut match, a friendly against Ivory Coast at West Ham, brought a 1-0 defeat. “The moment has come”, he has said, “for us to have faith in the former greats of our football and learn from them.”
Andrea Pirlo, the Juventus midfielder, is now 33 but remains a class act. His 46 appearances for Italy’s Under-21s, which included nine in their Olympic guise, created a European record which James Milner equalled in 2009. Pirlo is up to 86 caps for the seniors and is arguably the finest playmaker at Euro 2012. Antonio Cassano and Antonio di Natale are diminutive in height but are clever forwards. Milan’s Cassano has an eye for the killer pass and di Natale of Udinese has the kind of sharp movement that would worry any defence. Gianluigi Buffon is still a top ‘keeper at 34 but stalwart defender Giorgio Chiellini is now struggling with an injury.
Roberto Mancini, Manchester City’s Premiership-winning boss, is currently on holiday in his Italian homeland and thinks his player Mario Balotelli could be key. He told Gazzetta dello Sport: “Balotelli is the strongest striker of Italy and he has to play. No one else could give England the same problem. Prandelli is doing a terrific work but he has to rely on Mario. He is too important and you could not leave him on the bench”.
England and Italy have met 22 times, a series which began with a 1-1 friendly draw in Rome in 1933. England have won seven, drawn six and lost nine. The Italians have proved to be difficult opponents in the last 30-odd years, with England winning just one of the last nine matches. The countries last met in an Elland Road friendly in 2002, the visitors winning 2-1 with a last-gasp penalty, and they haven’t clashed in a European Championship match since the 1980 Finals which Italy hosted. Tardelli scored the only goal of a ‘Group Two’ fixture in Turin.
Any other business
Italy once won a European Championship semi-final on the toss of a coin. It followed their 0-0 draw with USSR in Naples in 1968 and they went on to lift the Henri Delaunay Trophy for the first and only time in their history. Italy’s record victory in an international, 9-0 against USA, was achieved at Brentford’s Griffin Park ground in 1948.
1 Gianluigi Buffon, 12 Salvatore Sirigu, 14 Morgan De Sanctis
2 Christian Maggio, 3 Giorgio Chiellini, 4 Angelo Ogbonna, 6 Federico Balzaretti, 7 Ignazio Abate, 15 Andrea Barzagli, 19 Leonardo Bonucci
5 Thiago Motta, 8 Claudio Marchisio, 13 Emanuele Giaccherini, 16 Daniele De Rossi, 18 Riccardo Montolivo, 21 Andrea Pirlo, 22 Alessandro Diamanti, 23 Antonio Nocerino
9 Mario Balotelli, 10 Antonio Cassano, 11 Antonio Di Natale, 17 Fabio Borini, 20 Sebastian Giovinco