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Rating Italy’s players in South Africa 2010

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.

Simone Pepe: 5.5 out of 10. Better than the other players in midfield or on the wing. Pepe tried to put the ball in the box through crosses and passes as often as possible yet for all his efforts and determination, he offered little in terms of useful possession or chances against opponents. He wasted the chance to score against Slovakia at the death as he could have perhaps reacted differently when the ball fell close to him instead of simply executing a disappointing mishit.

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.

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  2. Rami S.

    June 30, 2010 at 12:16 pm

    One thing which crossed my mind is how come Gattuso started against Slovakia instead of let’s say Angelo Palombo?

    The Sampdoria midfielder is younger and in better shape than Gattuso.

    • Scott Alexander

      July 2, 2010 at 6:20 pm

      Maybe, because Lippi knew that he was going to bring in Pirlo and didn’t want to have to use 2 substitutions to get the benefit of their understanding? I don’t know.. I think that I would have started Palombo.

      • Rami S.

        July 3, 2010 at 3:13 am

        Hi Scott,

        I think Lippi would not have used Pirlo against Slovakia if Italy were up because he’d rest him for a Round of 16 match but unfortunately for Lippi the Azzurri were trailing and he had to throw Pirlo in.

        While Pirlo did not do anything special and was ineffective, he still helped boost Italy’s play with his simple passes.

        In a World Cup many things must fall in place for a team to succeed and best example is Brazil! The Selecao had best defensive lineup with Maicon, Lucio and Juan in front of Julio Cesar as well as a talented bunch further up in the pitch (Kaka, Robinho, Luis Fabiano) yet they failed because Felipe Melo was playing like he normally does for Juventus! I thought I was watching Melo in a Juve shirt because he was at fault for both goals and then made things worse by getting red carded.

  3. Scott Alexander

    June 29, 2010 at 6:03 pm

    I think I’d agree with the ratings. The only thing that I’d quibble over a bit is your statement that some might underestimate the effect of the injuries. Very few people that follow the Italian game would underestimate the effect of Buffon getting injured. Pirlo is kind of Lippi’s fault. Not that he got injured of course but that Lippi knew Pirlo’s current injury situation and didn’t adequately prepare for it

    • Rami S.

      June 29, 2010 at 11:07 pm

      Hi Scott,

      Some in the media, particularly in the US, made it seem the injury to Buffon was of minor influence on the Azzurri.

      I just think having a 100% Buffon would have meant added sense of confident amongst defenders and he is a commanding presence who could have compensated for Cannavaro’s decline. Finally, against Slovakia having Buffon would mean Italy had a bigger chance at seeing a save made on one of the Slovak goals.

      Thanks for your comments and time.

      • Scott Alexander

        July 2, 2010 at 6:31 pm

        I completely agree on the confidence, presence, and ability to block at least one shot. Probably bigger to me though (and I might be wrong), Buffon seems to organize outfield positions much more than most keepers. I’m not convinced that he would have had to save some of those shots. As to the US media, I guess I don’t get a lot of it other than pre-game post-game stuff.
        I’m curious if you don’t mind me asking: what US media do you look at? and (I presume you look at Italian media as well) what Italian do you take a look at?

        • Rami S.

          July 3, 2010 at 3:52 am

          Hi Scott,

          You’re right about Buffon and I’d add that one can see his concern for the game as he showed more passion and fire from the bench while his teammates were “walking” around on the pitch against Slovakia. On the flip side, Marchetti looked nervous and one could tell he did not have the courage to lecture Cannavaro or Chiellini because they have much more experience than him.

          For Italian media, I tend to check La Gazzetta dello Sport, I write for and I watch as many games from Serie A as possible. I also check Football Italia regularly.

          I think before the World Cup, the US media paid little attention to the World Cup but I’ve come across some papers which wrote about the WC and of course pre and post analysis of games on US channels (ESPN & ABC) as well as various writers on Twitter. I do not usually check US media for Football news- I’ve only done it during the WC because of where the games are shown and because I was interested in checking what US papers wrote and what writers had to say about the World Cup.

          I am not sure if I shared this before but using Twitter can help get more news as well from various US media sources. I can be reached there too @RamiSoufi

          Thanks for your comments

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  8. Scott Alexander

    June 27, 2010 at 4:51 pm

    I’d agree with most of your ratings here. I’m curious what ratings you’d give Lippi for this tournament?

    • Rami S.

      June 27, 2010 at 11:20 pm

      Hello Scott,

      That’s a very good question. To be fair, it’s more difficult to rate a coach than a player because we don’t get to see the training sessions, what he tells the players, how deals with them and if he is able to motivate them.

      Lippi is a legend after his successes with Juventus & Italy yet he tarnished his image when he coached Inter in a short and unsuccessful stint and now he has hurt his image with the Azzurri. Give him credit for deciding to return despite knowing the pressure he will face, the expectations and of course the media’s intense and intrusive coverage.

      While some might underestimate this, but the injuries to Pirlo and particularly Buffon have hurt the team. To win a World Cup, you need not just solid players, talent, a decent coach but also some lack, no injuries and sometimes decisions to go your way. In this World Cup, Italy had to deal with key injuries, the goals conceded in the first 2 games were defensive errors while Quagi’s goal which was disallowed for offside could have stood under different circumstances. Italy got one lucky call all tournament and it was penalty but even then De Rossi’s shirt was held despite his exaggerated fall.

      Going back to Lippi, I’d say he did best he could with the players available as they are not of superior quality. However, Lippi is to blame for excluding one or even two from Cassano, Balotelli and Totti (Miccoli would be on list but he got injured, but Lippi wasn’t going to include him anyways). I’d take off at least 1 point for Lippi’s 23-man squad to start with.

      I’d take another mark off for continuously playing Marchisio out of position and another for playing Gilardino and Iaquinta in a static attack. He needed to use both Di Natale and Quagi more often.

      Lippi also seemed to fail to fire up his players for the clashes against the Kiwis and then Slovakia. Finally, he should have benched Cannavaro after the first match even if he took a risk by including him and keeping him as captain. I’d add the exclusion of Giuseppe Rossi from the final squad. Why did he pick Iaquinta, Pazzini and Gilardino as all three are known finishers and do not create anything? He should have selected Rossi instead of Iaquinta or perhaps Pazzini.

      I’d give him at the end a 4 out of 10. The only reason I give him the mark is because the team played better in the second-half in the 3 matches and his substitutes tended to improve things for Italy. It’s a shame because in WC2006, I thought Lippi was the star followed by Cannavaro/Buffon/Pirlo.

  9. Niccolo

    June 27, 2010 at 12:35 am

    Sort of harsh, but how can you not be after seeing how they played. If there’s one change I would make it would be Pepe getting a higher score, he injected a bit of pace and movement into the side and was always running. I’d give Pepe at least a 7 for his perseverance and work-rate.

    • Rami S.

      June 27, 2010 at 1:30 pm

      Hi Niccolo,

      I had to keep in mind all 3 games factored together. I think the New Zealand game hurt the ratings the most but none of the Italians impressed in this World Cup except for Quagi in his half of playing time.

      As for Pepe, I was going to consider a 6 or 6.5 but his performance against the Kiwis was below average and Lippi had to replace him. Against Slovakia, he should have taken a different approach on the last play. I understand the pressure of the moment, but he could have done differently instead of his mishit.

      Yes, I agree he put the effort but often lacked the quality because he did not really contribute to any of Italy’s goals. He was not part of any of the major plays by the Azzurri. Usually it was Quagi (for good things) and De Rossi for either the good (His goal or penalty) or bad for his unacceptable pass which led to Slovakia’s first.

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