Prandelli’s Italy can counter Serie A stagnation

Italy began their preparation yesterday for the match against Ireland in a mood of national euphoria but no great confidence about the tournament to come.

On Saturday, Carlo Ancelotti lifted the European Cup for the fifth time in his career and the following day prime minister Matteo Renzi was able to claim a resounding victory in the European elections.

In politics as in football it was a welcome relief. Renzi now has a popular mandate, having taken office after a series of fixes, while Ancelotti has allowed the country a touch of reflected glory after another unsuccessful season in Europe.

Like any politician, Renzi was quick to associate himself with a victory.

“I didn’t expect him to call,” Ancelotti said yesterday. “He offered me his congratulations, he told me that as an Italian he’s proud of this success, he was very nice.”

In reality, the balance sheet of Italian football going into this World Cup is much like the economy — a mess.

When Juventus went out of the Europa League to Benfica four weeks ago it ensured Italy would slip behind Portugal in the table of Uefa coefficients, their worst placing since 1984. Thus only one club from Serie A is guaranteed a place in the Europa League group stage, making it a little bit harder to win back that coveted third automatic spot in the Champions League they lost to the Germans.

As so often, Italy are approaching the finals with a very strong and settled defence — even stronger than two years ago — based on a familiar group of Juventus stalwarts. The six Juve players in the squad, fresh from their third successive title, will no doubt feature in the team to face England in Manaus on June 14, but for Saturday’s game we are likely to see some changes.

Boosted by Cesare Prandelli’s confirmation that he is staying on as manager until 2016, the players are expecting a few tactical tweaks after a week mostly spent on physical preparation.

Prandelli wants the side to attack with pace, with a standard formation “as a point of reference and identity”, but the tactics will vary. “It is hard to see my team starting and finishing a match with the same tactical approach,” he said yesterday.

So not too much should be read into the selection and, as on some previous occasions, there are uncertainties about the attack.

Prandelli knows all he needs to know about his two main men — Mario Balotelli and Antonio Casssano — but Giuseppe Rossi was pencilled in as a likely starter until the cruciate injury that deprived Fiorentina of his goals for the second half of the season. He’s in the squad, desperate to play a part. Perhaps Saturday will be the test to see whether he can make the cut.

The striker who’s had the biggest impact this season, Ciro Immobile, seemingly bound for a move to Borussia Dortmund, should also figure. With 22 goals in 33 games he provided a phenomenal return in Serie A, especially for outsiders such as Torino.

As usual for the rest of this week there will be open sessions in the morning at Italy’s Coverciano training centre in Florence, followed by closed sessions in late afternoon. Unlike some sides Italy have chosen to stay in familiar surroundings and conditions, although saunas have been used to mimic the sweltering heat and humidity they will face in Amazonia.

Italy must be slightly concerned that they have not managed a win in five attempts since they beat the Czech Republic last September, including draws against Denmark, Armenia and Nigeria when they conceded six goals. Then again the Italians are past masters at going through a run of indifferent results in matches that they don’t have to win and then peaking at the right time. Despite continued disappointment at club level, the national team remain formidable opponents.

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Saturday, April 10, 2021

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