Italy Establishes Its Credentials As a World Cup Favorite
It’s the definition of premature to say a team can win it all after one game. Even after one strong performance against a good team. Even if said performance was in an environment in which the temperature rivaled that of a sauna.
It’s premature, and yet I’m trudging along with the point anyway. Italy can win it all. The World Cup. The whole kit and caboodle. This statement isn’t based solely on Saturday’s win over England, but the win certainly adds legitimacy to it.
Cesare Prandelli has about as many tactical formations in his arsenal as NFL teams have plays in a play book. The Azzurri is a tactically flexible team that has the personnel to execute different formations depending on who their opponent is. We’ve seen this in the past as Prandelli has used a 3-5-2 to suffocate Spain’s midfielders to great results. On the other hand, we saw him deploy a 4-3-2-1 “Christmas Tree” against England to terrorize the Brits on the flanks. Prandelli is a master tactician who will put a different formation out for a different opponent, depending on what works best. This lack of rigidity will allow the team to have an advantage against whomever they play. Regardless of what the team shape is, you can bet that it will be built around Andrea Pirlo.
Midfield maestro Pirlo was able to dictate and control the flow of the game against England. The press was abuzz all week with all the ways Roy Hodgson was going to control his former Inter Milan player. However, none of these worked. It seemed as if Hodgson didn’t have a strategy at all for curtailing the Italian legend. It’s absurd to think that a manager as good as Hodgson wouldn’t have a plan. Which probably means that whatever plan that was implemented didn’t work. At all. Opposing managers must find a way to stop Pirlo. Whether it is with a singular man following him around the pitch, or something else, someone has to find a solution. Because if teams continue the English’s trend of letting the legend pick his passes and have time on the ball, opposing teams are going to be in trouble.
One of Italy’s biggest assets, thanks to the England win, is a favorable bracket. Assuming that they beat Costa Rica (which won’t be as easy as was once thought) and get a result versus Uruguay, the Azzurri should win the group. This gives them two distinct advantages. One is that they would be matched up with the runner up of Group C in the round of 16. Assuming Columbia takes the group that should be one of Greece, Japan and the Ivory Coast. All three would give a stern test, but none can probably be perceived as a threat to the Italians’ chances.
Should Brazil win their own group it would mean that they couldn’t play Prandelli’s squad until a potential final.
While Brazil is the favorite, and Italy winning their group would get them as far away as possible from the hosts, Germany can probably be counted on as the other favorite. First off, Germany has never beat Italy in a competition, ever. There is also the fact that the Germans entered Euro 2012 in a similar position to this year where they’re one of the top contenders. Mario Balotelli and company promptly dispatched their European counterparts 2-1.
If Italy’s defense can play with the defensive organization and determination that they showed against England’s attack, if they can use Andrea Pirlo to dictate the flow of the game, and if they can outsmart the opposition tactically, Italy can win the World Cup.
Ben Rosener is from the Seattle area who is the editor and founder of Kingdome of Seattle Sports and Know Hitter. In addition to those sites, he contributes to Bleacher Report. Ben is in the process of starting a soccer-themed Youtube channel called Sports on Terms. You can follow his criminally under-followed Twitter account here. He is also a massive sports fan and is a keen supporter of Juventus and the Italian National team. He only refers to himself in the third person for bios.