The Azzurri performed poorly throughout the World Cup and waited till the 80th minute of the match against Slovakia to start playing when it was too late to make a reaction to compensate for the failures in the previous 260 minutes of football. What is most troubling is the fact the Italian reaction was not due to team effort but rather down to a spark offered by Fabio Quagliarella who was behind one goal and scored another.
Italy’s squad lacked the confidence and played some uncharacteristic football dominated by loose marking, lack of communication amongst defenders and poor defending from set-pieces. The Italian team conceded 5 goals from a remarkable 6 shots on target which means almost every shot by opponents turned into a goal and that the Italian goalkeepers saved to make a single save. The Azzurri suffered from the absence of the injured Gianluigi Buffon who managed to play the opening 45 minutes before Federico Marchetti assumed the role of goalkeeper without making any outstanding saves.
Italy lacked creativity and invented little in terms of scoring chances inside the box before the second-half against Slovakia when Quagliarella was brought on to save Italy’s faltering World Cup campaign. The absence of Andrea Pirlo, despite his decline in form the last couple of years, was a massive blow for the team as he was limited to less than 45 minutes of playing time due to injury. When he entered the game, he was able to provide the Azzurri with more structured attacks despite his obvious lack of fitness. Italy’s attack which lacked creativity and produced nothing other than the penalty-kick converted by Vincenzo Iaquinta was pathetic in all three matches prior to the insertion of Quagliarella by coach Marcello Lippi.
Below is an assessment of the Azzurri players following all three matches in the group stage:
Gianluigi Buffon: N/A because he played in 45 minutes and had one shot which was very difficult to save against Paraguay. It was a defensive mistake by both Daniele De Rossi and Fabio Cannavaro.
Federico Marchetti: 5 out of 10. Marchetti did not commit any blunders but he did not make any saves either. From 5 shots which were on target, he failed to save 4 which were converted to goals. The third goal scored by Slovakia could have been avoided had he either rushed quicker to get the ball or stood his ground to attempt a save. He was left in no man’s land but the main fault lies with the defenders who left him exposed.
Fabio Cannavaro: 3.5 out of 10. This might be seen as harsh by some or as generous by others depending on how one views the goals conceded by Italy. The Germany 2006 version of Cannavaro had better sense of positioning and greater leaping power as well as better timing and most likely would have prevented both the Paraguay and New Zealand goals which came via set-pieces. The Kiwis scored after the ball deflected off Cannavaro’s knee. The former Azzurri captain was in no man’s land when Slovakia scored the second and third goals. His sense of marking deserted him and his leadership was quite poor considering he is the squad’s captain, most experienced player and a former best player in the world. Frankly, he was one of the main reasons behind Italy’s failure. He left Giorgio Chiellini with so much to do in terms of covering and tracking back.
Giorgio Chiellini: 5.5 out of 10. Chiellini had to cover for the deficiencies of the other defenders, mainly Cannavaro, and he covered time and again when Cannavaro was short or lost against Slovakia. He probably got used to having to carry the defensive line after Cannavaro’s poor showing with Juventus during the Serie A season when Chiellini had often had to save the Bianconeri but it does get tough after a while as witnessed by Juve’s miserable defensive record and the Azzurri shortcomings on the defensive end in South Africa 2010. He was perhaps a bit slow and, thus, maybe at fault for Slovakia’s second goal when he was late to cover the Slovak player Robert Vittek as he slotted the second goal for Slovakia. Other than that second goal by Vittek, Chiellini did what he could considering his partner was the aging Cannavaro.
Domenico Criscito: 5.5 out of 10. Did not commit any glaring mistakes yet he fell way short of the width, attacking impetus and overall impact offered by Fabio Grosso in World Cup 2006. Obviously, both Grosso and Criscito had to take over after the world’s best left-back Paolo Maldini retired.
Christian Maggio: 5 out of 10. Was not at fault for any of the goals and only featured in the second-half against Slovakia. He showed the ability to go forward in spurts yet does not appear as a solid defensive option. Italy were stronger when Gianluca Zambrotta was on the right because of his experience and effort.
Gianluca Zambrotta: 6 out of 10. He actually performed much better than expected against both Paraguay and New Zealand to defy the critics who expected him to be horrible and a reason behind Italy’s failures. While Cannavaro disappointed as expected, Zambrotta stood his ground and performed consistently albeit nothing spectacular and way short of his impressive performances in Germany 2006. In the previous World Cup, Zambrotta was one of the stars and main catalysts as he threatened against Australia, Ukraine and Germany. Time for him to quit the national team without having to disgrace himself like Cannavaro who over stayed his welcome.
Gennaro Gattuso: 4 out of 10. He did not provide anything in the 45 minutes against Slovakia but the fault was not his because Lippi should not have started him after sitting the first two games and knowing Italy needed goals and not a defensive effort. Gattuso rightfully announced his international retirement before the World Cup. He deserves credit for making the decision and for being brave enough to acknowledge he is in free fall as he is only getting older. Poor performance on his behalf but it is not completely his fault because Lippi should have started someone else.
Claudio Marchisio: 4 out of 10. Marchisio did not do anything horribly but he did not contribute either. He was absent during the first two matches leading Lippi to bench him for the Slovakia match which was the right decision. The initial mistake was Lippi’s decision to play Marchisio out of position. A wasted player who perhaps could have performed better if properly used.
Riccardo Montolivo: 5 out of 10. Montolivo was better against Paraguay and the Kiwis when he attempted a number of long-distance shots which were saved by the goalkeepers on 3 occasions while one strike hit the post. At least he tried and hit the target on a number of occasions while someone like Alberto Gilardino did not have a single effort on target.
Daniele De Rossi: 5 out of 10. Italy’s greatest disappointment in the tournament. He does not perform as well for the Azzurri when compared with his passionate and gritty displays for his club Roma. He was at fault for Slovakia’s first goal. He gets a 5 for saving Italy against Paraguay and for creating the penalty against New Zealand. Overall, a tournament to forget for a player considered by many as Italy’s biggest hope.
Andrea Pirlo: 5.5 out of 10. Italy’s most creative force considering Antonio Cassano, Mario Balotelli, Francesco Totti and Alessandro Del Piero were all left home. He played a portion of the second-half against the Slovaks and he showed he can provide the Italians with improved and structured play as well as more incisive passing. Too bad he was not fully fit and his injury forced him to miss the first two games. His absence was decisive in terms of Italy’s failure to break defenders and opponents.
Mauro Camoranesi: 4.5 out of 10. Did not feature against Slovkia in a good decision by Lippi. He did come on as a second-half substituteagainst both Paraguay and New Zealand. He did offer more than Marchisio but nothing decisive except for a long-range effort saved by the goalkeeper of the Kiwis and some crosses in those two matches. He received a yellow card and risked a red card as he seemed to be unable to control his temper.
Giampaolo Pazzini: N/A as he barely touched the ball in the second-half against New Zealand while he did not feature in the other two games. He cannot be blamed for Italy’s failures because he played little but also because he is a finisher and to play him would have been a waste of his talents. At least, Lippi was right about not playing him much.
Alberto Gilardino: 3.5 out of 10. While Cannavaro might have been at fault on the defensive end, Italy’s struggling offensive performances might be down to his presence in the starting lineup. Gilardino cannot be held responsible 100% because the style of play and the system employed by the Azzurri left him both useless and isolated. What he must be blamed for is his lack of effort as he barely hassled defenders or stopped the buildup when the opponents had the ball in their area and were attempting to get the ball out from their defensive positions. He was definitely a great disappointment in terms of his contribution. Lippi was right not to use him against Slovakia but it was too late to remove him before the last match as he should have been benched from at the break during the Kiwis.
Antonio Di Natale: 5.5 out of 10. He did offer more than Gilardino and Vincenzo Iaquinta but that was down to his characteristics and not his efforts. He gets the mark for converting the easy follow-up against Slovakia for Italy’s first goal in that match. He at least tried to move around but still he should not be playing for the Azzurri under Prandelli. He is also over 30 so he should not have been called up as that would mean Totti and even Del Piero deserved to be on the squad since both have offered more to the Azzurri over the years.
Vincenzo Iaquinta: 5 out of 10. He gets the 5 for his cool conversion of the penalty-kick against the Kiwis. If Gilardino took he it, he probably would have missed considering he barely touched the ball in the World Cup. Iaquinta did try much harder than Gilardino but was played out of position against both Paraguay and then New Zealand in the first-half. Even when he was moved to a more central role he still failed to deliver highlighting his lack of talent. He did run and he did move but he is lacking in terms of talent.
Fabio Quagliarella: 8.5 out of 10. He played only in the second-half against Slovakia but was Italy’s best performer in the tournament in the short time he played. He offered the Azzurri a lot in terms of movements and creativity. In the last 15 minutes, he provided the spark which Italy lacked in South Africa 2010. He had one shot cleared on the line, had a goal disallowed for a very close offside call as replays showed the Slovak defender’s foot was covering the leaning Quagliarella when he scored, was a key contributor to the first Italian goal as his shot was parried to the open Di Natale for the simple finish and scored a stunner in injury-time. Quagliarella’s goal was a sublime showing of his skills and his ability to create out of nothing as well as his composure. Another player would have rushed the shot or opted for force and power as opposed to a smart and delicate finish from outside the penalty box.
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