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.

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