Despite Italy’s lackluster performance in their first two group stage matches, the Azzurri have the chance to advance into the next round of the World Cup with a win or a tie plus help.  Some excellent analyses of the Italian team’s weaknesses have been published over the last few days, and the negatives about this Italian team have seemingly come true (too old, not enough play makers, etc.).  The squad faces the forked road that some European powers have already faced, with one path leading to redemption (England) and another leading to disgrace and finger-pointing (France).

So, how can Italy win its first international match in 2010?  Here are three ways Marcello Lippi can tip the outcome:

  1. Start Leonardo Bonucci over Cannavaro: Yes, Cannavaro is the captain, has won a World Cup, and was one of the world’s best defenders at one time.  But in a win-or-go-home match, you need to put in the player that gives you the best chance to win.  Cannavaro is (directly or indirectly) responsible for both goals scored against Italy this World Cup.  His defending on New Zealand’s only goal was terrible, as he had a good opportunity to deny the ball but was a step too slow.   Bonucci lacks Cannavaro’s World Cup experience but does have one thing most of the squad lacks – a goal in international competition.  He scored off a rebound in the Mexico friendly, and has showed the type of finishing off set pieces that has been a weakness of this team so far.  His presence enhances the defending and scoring in set pieces, which the team needs more than experience.
  2. Start Antonio Di Natale instead of Alberto Gilardino:  Di Natale’s presence in the New Zealand match made an immediate difference.  While he did not score, he had some quality shots and had the best chances to score in the second half.  Starting him would allow him to get into a groove throughout the match instead of trying to be an immediate threat off the bench, which has not worked to this point.  And while I suggest Gilardino sit, any of the Azzurri strikers could be inserted here, as the offense has been stagnant.
  3. Start Andrea Pirlo and sub Montolivo for him at halftime:  Marcello Lippi has said Pirlo will be available off the bench due to injury, but if he is healthy enough to come off the bench Lippi should consider starting him.  He is the best spark plug for the offense, and if the Italians score quickly and take a lead into halftime, Montolivo can finish the match in his place.  Could this backfire and potentially aggravate Pirlo’s injury, taking him out of the entire World Cup?  Yes, but you need a positive result in this match before you can worry about future ones.

What do you think are the keys to the match?  Share below or on Twitter at @roberthayjr.