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Leagues: Serie A

Italy, The Obstacle In England’s Path

The Azzurri are marching with their heads held high after defying the pre-tournament critics and escaping group C. Coach Cesare Prandelli’s tactical masterstroke against Spain demonstrated his vision. The Catenaccio styled Italy has been absent this tournament, and a new more adventurous side has emerged.

The 3-5-2 played by Juventus adopted by Prandelli out of necessity allowed Daniele De Rossi’s distribution to be a tactical strength, as shown in the draw against Spain. Once the Spanish doubled up on Pirlo to prevent his ability to dictate, De Rossi sprayed the ball to the wings, to effectively use the wing-backs, placing further pressure on Spain’s weakened defense.

More of the same against Croatia. Until the second half got underway, the team didn’t exploit their distributing skills. Pirlo began to give the ball away — and that’s never a good sign. Some argue that the congested fixture list for Euro 2012 may hamper Italy’s midfield maestro, whose season with Juve had averaged a game a week.

Prandelli boldly changed his tactical approach yet again, reverting to a more familiar 4-3-1-2 — used frequently during qualification. With Andrea Barzagli returning, it seemed a logical choice.

But Ireland put up a fight- unexpectedly. After two resounding defeats against Croatia and Spain, the Irish seemed left for dead, and the Italians seemed poised to pick the bones.

Pre-match journalists, pundits and football fans were muttering about the Il biscotto– a mutual beneficial agreement- between Croatia and Spain. Gigi Buffon hit out on this notion as he believes if it happened “It would be a joke all around Europe,” but previously he contradictorily said “It’s better to have two injured than one dead,” in relation to the Il biscotto.

Il biscotto is infamous in Italy and previously dumped Italy out of Euro 2004, after Sweden and Denmark’s convenient result. Fears were casted if the Italians would be dealt a similar hand.

Game day; Italy v Ireland and Spain v Croatia, it was poised to be an enthralling match day.

Italy played as expected with a four man defence after the return of Barzagli. Ironically the new formation was intended to aid in Italy’s possession game. However, the two games previous demonstrated a more dominate Italy.

And without a 90th minute goal from the ever enigmatic Balotelli, injury-time would’ve been a shaky few minutes.

The reaction of Balotelli was highlighted, but sure enough Bonucci came to the rescue and stopped another regretful Balotelli moment. “He said something in English – I’ve no idea what it was,” said Bonucci. “Unfortunately, Mario is very instinctive. That is also his strength. Without that personality, he wouldn’t have scored such a great goal.”

But, in the eyes of manager Cesare Prandelli the bond between the Italy squad is strong, “Bonucci’s gesture you can see the team spirit in the group,” Prandelli said.

With England fast approaching, Italy is poised to hold up a fight. Mummers around that England have got the easier of the top two in group C. An opinion I don’t subscribe to.

Italy thrives under being earmarked dark horses, being castigated throughout Europe. Having their domestic league painted as not prestigious by Arsene Wenger. “Why [would] a top player, a big champion would want a move to Serie A – in terms of the prestige of the league,” Wenger said.

It’s the perfect storm. Lippi in the 2006 world cup triumph used a victimisation complex to strengthen the team. Italy’s national team become a club, in small short period of time.

Now looking back at Bonucci and Italy’s collective reaction to Balotelli is one of embrace. Unlike the British media or some teammates at Manchester City, Balotelli is accepted. Prandelli said “He is like that, he has always been like that but that doesn’t mean he is detached from the group.”

Sunday’s game against England will test Italy’s championship credentials, but similar to the game against Spain, Italy will be ready.

And Balotelli’s contribution will be vital, as he showed against Ireland he has the ability to take a match on its head. But, equally as he did against Spain he has the ability to freeze as easily.

Furthermore, Italy will prove an obstacle for England, one in which they will struggle to overcome. Italy’s tactical flexibility is a strength England doesn’t possess, and Hodgson’s two banks of four will be tested if a 3-5-2 is played.

England’s shape will have his sturdiest test so far, with the likes of Maggio and Giaccherini bombing down both wings, and possibly fed by De Rossi.

However, England’s counter-attacking ability will test a slow De Rossi in defence, and with Rooney and Welbeck possibly running through the channels. England will pose a huge threat in the heart of the Italian defence.

Equally, both sides will test each other in different ways. But, this tie will either legitimise Italy’s championship credentials or send them packing with their tails well and truly between their legs.

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