Italy have begun to forget about Lippi and the World Cup failure, the team has new faces and is beginning to click under Cesare Prandelli. The first qualifying match for the European Championships Poland/Ukraine 2012 was against Estonia, and while Prandelli couldn’t use Balotelli, Buffon, and a few other important players, Italy were able to win.
Cesare Prandelli decided to go with a 4-3-3, using a front three of Pazzini in the middle, Cassano on the left, and Pepe on the right. In the midfield there was Pirlo, Montolivo, and De Rossi playing in front of Bonucci and Chiellini in the center of defense, with Molinaro on the left and Cassani on the right. Sirigu started between the posts, getting his second cap for Italy, his first being the 1-0 loss which the Azzurri suffered against the Ivory Coast.
Italy started very offensively, Cassano stringing passes together, Pirlo spreading the play, and Pazzini looking dangerous up front. But soon enough this attacking style which created a couple of good opportunities slowly died down as Estonia played defensively, absorbing Italy’s attacks as they tried to hit the Azzurri on the counter. The first goal arrived from a free kick, a long range shot which Sirigu spilled awkwardly, then Zenjov got the tap-in before the Italian defenders could clear the ball.
This made it 1-0 in the 31st minute, the Azzurri’s morale couldn’t be lower, they were unable to do much for the remainder of the first half. The second half began with Italy trying to maintain the ball against Estonia who were pumped up with the idea of defeating a team 83 places ahead of them in the FIFA rankings.
Then the Azzurri’s response arrived, a corner swung in by Pirlo which Cassano headed into the back of the net, equalizing and lifting the entire team’s spirit. This was in the 60th minute, and just three minutes later Pirlo swung in another corner towards Cassano at the near post, the Sampdoria player backheeled it into the middle of the penalty area where Bonucci whacked it into the back of the net. A comeback in just three minutes in which Cassano got a goal and an wonderful assist.
Italy held out for the rest of the match playing with a more relaxed tempo, Prandelli had brought on Quagliarella for Pepe before the comeback, and Cesare went on to replace Montolivo with Palombo and Cassano with Antonelli. Estonia began to push forward as their coach Ruutli put in forwards in hopes of finding an equalizer. In the end Italy were able to hold out and get three important points, and they now find themselves second behind Serbia who won 3-0 over the Faroe Islands.
Here are the ratings for the Italy players, keep in mind that I am very strict in the way I rate players.
Sirigu: 5.5, spilled the free kick letting Estonia go ahead, and after that he was flapping uselessly at crosses.
Cassani: 6.5, pushed forward providing another option in attack, confident in his play and provided solidity on the right side.
Bonucci: 6.5, got the winner and was pretty solid at the back with Chiellini, pushed up and helped out in attack quite a bit, leaving Chiellini with some work to do.
Chiellini: 7, was a rock at the back, the only time he slipped up was for the goal but other than that he was fantastic at keeping the Estonian forwards quiet.
Molinaro: 6, an okay return, pushed forward but not as much as Cassani, gained confidence throughout the game and found a way to help be incisive.
De Rossi: 6.5, a strong presence in the midfield, paired up with Pirlo to keep possession and spread the ball around.
Pirlo: 7, a wonderful performance from the AC Milan midfielder, swung in dangerous corners, got an assist, and taught us all how to appreciate smooth passing.
Montolivo: 5, I had forgotten that Montolivo was on the field for about 30 minutes, totally invisible, didn’t touch the ball and was disappointing. Prandelli did well to take him off.
Pepe: 5.5, Pepe ran around and was active, but he just didn’t find a way to be useful playing up near Pazzini, would’ve been better used in the midfield.
Pazzini: 6.5, was dangerous at the beginning with a couple of good shots, great movement with Cassano as their quick passing moved up the field well.
Cassano: 7.5, a great performance from Cassano, quick passing, maintained possession, scored a goal, and assisted another with brilliance.
Quagliarella: 5.5, replaced Pepe and barely touched the ball, didn’t do much and was fairly disappointing.
Palombo: 6, took off Montolivo and provided more solidity, a good move by Prandelli which allowed Pirlo to move up a bit more than before.
Antonelli: 6, only played 10 minutes on his debut for the Azzurri, replaced Cassano and he ran around, provided enthusiasm, and made sure he was noticed in a positive light.
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