Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Confederations Cup Profiles: Italy

Italy played some ugly football last year. It seems almost inconceivable now, but under Donadoni, the Azzurri were only a PK shootout away from eliminating eventual champions Spain in the quarters of last year's European Championship.

That same Italian team was somewhat fortunate to make it out of the group stages though. They were dead last in the group entering the last match. But they were gifted a reprieve in the form of a team coached by Raymond Domenech. That'll cure what ails ya. Even if only until the next match.

That was the match against Spain. Italy sucked the life out of it. Drew the ire of the entire world for it. And rightfully lost on the soccer equivalent of roulette to the eventual Euro winners.

Exit Donadoni. Reenter Lippi. And the Italians arrive in South Africa for the Confederations Cup as the reigning World Champions lest people forget, which, as we just noted, would be easy to do given their recent uneven although improving form.

The Italians open the tournament with the US. Easy three points, right?

Eh, probably. But for some inexplicable reason the Americans play Italy extremely well. There was the nasty tilt in the last World Cup where the US managed a 1-1 draw. It was the only point taken off the Italians the entire tournament and it was earned with the US playing a man down for the better part of a half.

An overmatched squad of American college kids also played hosts Italy to a narrow 1-0 loss in the 1990 World Cup (and they almost nicked a goal late for what would have been the shocker of the tournament); and I have a vague recollection there was a draw between the sides for a friendly at Giants Stadium some time in the Nineties.

Of course that means little for South Africa. The US is on anything but a roll having been pasted in Costa Rica and needing to come from behind to beat Honduras at home in World Cup qualifying. And an Italy side featuring some younger and less experienced players dismantled Northern Ireland in a friendly over the weekend.

Giuseppe Rossi created then ran through space at will and Davide Santon was stellar in the back. It was a clinic. If it was intentional by Lippi, it was pretty brilliant. While Azzurri veterans rested, they were served with a message: "Play well or there are a bunch of young and talented people under you who will." So Lippi has the luxury of some youth to go with a now-motivated squad that's loaded with experience from the last World Cup (Grosso, Pirlo, Toni, Buffon, Camoranesi, Zambrotta, and a healthy Gattuso).

Italy face Egypt before finishing up with Brazil. So, yeah, this group seems loaded, but Egypt dropped its last World Cup qualifier to Algeria and looked bad doing it. They sit at the bottom of Group C (behind even Rwanda) with a single point. Now Egypt doesn't look as threatening as they did just a year ago. Figure the the Italians are sitting on six points when they face Brazil. Figure Brazil probably is as well.

Also figure that Marcello Lippi mightn't care if they lose that match as he's no idiot when it comes to history: "We're going to try to treat it with respect, but the team that wins the Confederations Cup never wins the World Cup. So I'm not sure I want to win it."

Lippi is going to do plenty of tinkering with the line-ups. But given the recent over-reliance of the Azzurri's offense of lobbing it in to Toni and hoping his tallnesss pays off, and the relative ease with which Rossi shredded Northern Ireland it wouldn't be much of a surprise to see plenty of the kid. After that, it's anyone's guess what Lippi does to get results while getting a grasp on what his team does against World Cup competition (by which we mean "Brazil").

Prediction: Italy advances from the group along with Brazil. But it wouldn't be the least bit surprising to see Lippi field the least experience team possible for the semi-final. He's only half joking when he says he doesn't want to win because he gets two more games no matter what if he makes it out of the group. Of course the other group is so weak that as long as Italy don't draw Spain, they are likely to be favorites against any of New Zealand, Iraq, or hosts South Africa to advance to the final anyway.

Squad: Gianluigi Buffon, Davide Santon, Fabio Grosso, Giorgio Chiellini, Fabio Cannavaro, Nicola Legrottaglie, Simone Pepe, Gennaro Gattuso, Luca Toni, Daniele De Rossi, Alberto Gilardino, Morgan Di Sanctis, Alessandro Gamberini, Marco Amelia, Vincenzo Iaquinta, Mauro Camoranesi, Guiseppe Rossi, Angelo Palombo, Gianluca Zambrotta, Riccardo Montolivo, Andrea Pirlo, Andrea Dossena, Fabio Quagliarella


EbullientFatalist said...

Italy has the flair to play like Spain, but their players are just so damn unlikeable. Even though my Nationalmannschaft lost last year, I couldn't begrudge Spain because of their skill and likeability. Italy has the skill, but also carry that Roman arrogance.

The Fan's Attic said...

it would be nice if Gooch maybe just got a couple good licks on Mr. Rossi of New Jersey during the match.

jape said...

Do we know what the TV coverage for the Confed Cup is going to be or not be?

ΓΌ75 said...

Interesting you should ask, Jape. We just got an ESPN missive in the gmails. We'll post a schedule later today.

jape said...

Excellent. Facebook now has me speaking in the 3rd person like Ricky Henderson - "Jape likes this."