Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Euro 2008 Team Profiles: Italy - More Confusing Than A Woman Right Now

You'd think that winning your qualifying group for the European Championships would bode well for your chances heading in, especially when that group contained one team coming off an appearance in the World Cup final (France), another team that made it to the knock out stage (Ukraine), and a pesky-as-shit Scottish side that fought until its last minute of play to try to steal a spot this summer.

Oh, and you also happen to currently hold the title of World Champions.

That ought to make you one of the favorites, either that or the fact that you are one of the favorites in seemingly every international tournament ever because you are Italy.

None of that, however, means much in terms of performance on the pitch and gauging by current form of some of the Azzurri's key players, it'd be hard to consider them a lock for anything. Hell, having drawn France (again) and the Netherlands, Italy might struggle getting out of Group C.

But the two players who arguably had the most to do with Italy taking home the last World Cup, eh, they donta looka sogood.

Fabio Cannavaro has had a pretty sub-par campaign at Real Madrid and Andrea Pirlo has been equally as unspectacular at Milan this season.

And is Roberto Donadoni going to leave Del Piero off the squad again? After being in Ranieri's dog house earlier this season at Juve, Del Piero has turned it around and had a bit of a renaissance, but what that means for this summer is anyone's guess.

So maybe Italy has some question marks.

But they do still have maybe the world's best keeper in Gigi Buffon. Actually there is no maybe about it, as Buffon tops the IFFHS' list of best goal keepers of the last 20 years (he shares the ranking with Peter Schmeichel). And they have a scoring machine in Luca Toni who, to this point, has 35 goals across all competitions in his first Bundesliga campaign. Plus his WAG is fucking hot (even if she's NSFW).

The Italians have their bulldog in the midfield in Gattuso, and in the 4-3-3 (than can be a 4-5-1) employed by Donadoni, Camoranesi (who better have learned the words to the national anthem by this point), will have to work pretty hard going box-to-box and falling back if and when Italy grab leads. So he could be the maybe the most important guy on the pitch. Still, they don't need to be spectacular in the midfield, just technically solid and they can probably find a way to disrupt the Dutch and the Romanians. France will be trickier.

So who knows? Italy were massive fucking failures in 2004, having entered as favorites only to not get out of their group after draws with Denmark and Sweden. But when they had lower expectations in Germany in 2006 they, you know, won.

They are going to need a result in their opener against the Dutch. And you can probably pencil in a W against Romania. Even then, 4 points probably won't be enough and it will come down to the match against France.

Seems sort of inevitable.

Breakout player: I can't even be sure either of these guys will make the squad, but one of the forwards from Udinese, either Di Natale or Quagliarella will be the difference between Italy advancing or not (I'd err on the side of the former who has 5 goals in 17 national team appearances).

Biggest question mark: Again, Pirlo and Cannavaro. Lean more on the latter as age (he'll be just shy of 35 by tournament's end) might be catching up to him.

Worst player: Materazzi is the card magnet, but I'm less a fan of Ambrosini, too many wasted touches in midfield. I'd also personally feed De Rossi a bowl of dicks for his cheap shot on Brian McBride in the '06 Cup.

Who's the coach (and is he as racist as Aragon├ęs?): Roberto Donadoni. Lippi took a "sabbatical" after the World Cup by not renewing his contract and Donadoni stepped in to immediately begin sucking. He started 0-2-1 with loses to Croatia and France and a home draw to Lithuania. He did manage to right the ship and win the group, but there is still some unease in the Italian press over his selection. Of course the Italian press would have unease over Jesus selecting Lazarus to raise from the dead (certainly there's someone more deserving, no?). Personally, I don't think anyone who played in the MLS will skipper a Euro champion in my lifetime. I also don't think I put enough thought into that statement to back it up.

Could England beat this team? Nope. Not even with their Italian manager, but maybe after a couple of questionable cards on Materazzi.

Can this team win it all? And what is their ready made excuse if they don't? Would anyone be that surprised if Italy pulled it together and found a way to emerge from their group and then engineer a couple of results to get to the final? No, they would not. Their excuse if they don't? See the question about the coach.

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