By now you have undoubtedly heard about the injury to Gigi Buffon and his questionable status for the remainder of the World Cup. Reading between the lines of the statements coming out of the Italian camp it looks like possibly the best keeper in the world could actually miss the entire World Cup. And in this World Cup, everyone recognizes the importance of a quality, screw-up free keeper. The new Azzurri keeper will likely be Federico Marchetti, who has two international caps and until two seasons ago had never played for a Serie A club. All of this plus the fact that the Italian squad seemingly relies on its ironclad defense to win matches, and it looks really bad for the Italians.
But as an Azzurri fan I can see some positives in this situation. No Italian fan will ever seriously admit that this is an ideal or preferred situation for the team, but there are a few silver linings in this cloud.
1. Marchetti has talent and could be ready for World Cup action: Federico Marchetti has minimal name recognition, but his resume is quite impressive. In the 2007-2008 Serie B season he was the starting keeper on an Albinoleffe club that surprisingly was almost promoted to Serie A. He was sent on loan to Cagliari the next season and has firmly established himself as one of the best Italian keepers in Serie A. Buffon even endorsed him as one of the country’s best.
While he did not have to work too much in the second half against Paraguay, Marchetti has the talent to compete in the World Cup. And if he recognizes his opportunity to establish a reputation for himself, he has the talent to show that he is a top-flight keeper. This World Cup could also serve as a try-out for him for the 2014 tournament in Brazil.
2. The injury forces Italy to play offense: Buffon’s injury ends any question about whether Italy can ride its defense to another title. Despite Marchetti’s talent, you cannot shoulder the entire burden of a World Cup run on him like you could a Buffon. Therefore, Marcello Lippi has to acknowledge that his club must step up its offense, and it has the talent to do so.
Antonio Di Natale came off the bench in Italy’s draw against Paraguay, and Lippi must now give serious thought to starting the Napoli striker. Di Natale led Serie A in goals this past season, and if he cannot provide the needed offense, Sampdoria’s surprising offensive star Giampaolo Pazzini is available to start. But regardless of how Lippi chooses to jumpstart his scoring, he has to realize that Italy needs to be more aggressive offensively. They have the talent to do so, and a more aggressive approach will help them advance in this tournament.
3. The pressure is off the team: As defending World Cup champions and one of, if not the premier, soccer nations in the world, the pressure to win the World Cup will always be on the Azzurri. But with the injuries to Buffon and Pirlo, plus what could arguably be a transition from the 2006 squad to younger stars (some of whom, unfortunately, are not on this squad), the Italians are actually not favored to win the World Cup. Some people even predicted before the Buffon injury that Italy would not advance from Group F. The club should use this situation to play looser and not be chained with expectations. If they make a run at the championship, it will be a remarkable story of them overcoming age and injury. If they don’t, they can pick an excuse as to why not.
4. Italy can win this group, and maybe the Cup, with a backup keeper: Let’s be honest, the Azzurri should win this group even with their backup keeper. New Zealand is scrappy, but their squad should not be remotely ready to handle the defending champions. Slovakia is talented, but this is their first World Cup and showed they are prone to rookie mistakes (like allowing an opponent to tie within minutes of the final whistle). Italy playing its best game can grab the top spot and move out of the group. From there, anything can happen in a one-and-done environment. Depending on who advances from the group stages, Italy could be facing Japan in the second round and be a few wins away from the championship.
5. Buffon could be back: What if Buffon and the Italian medical team work miracles and Buffon is ready for the later stages of the World Cup? Instead of needing to win at least five matches with a backup keeper, maybe they only need to get out of Group F and win in the second round. This is a very doable situation for the club.
Do I think Italy is better without Buffon? Certainly not. But can they use the situation to their advantage and overcome the injury? Absolutely.