World Cup Preview -Italy

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World Cup Preview -Italy

Postby sussexpob » Tue May 27, 2014 4:59 pm

The myth of Pandora may stem from Greek, and not Roman mythology, but one might be forgiven, in a footballing sense, for assuming its Italian links. Football pre-1960 was a game of innocence, of pure expression and untamed skill. Teams setup with 6 forwards and only 2 defenders, and "parking the bus" was what was done when you first arrived at the ground, and not on the pitch. This all changed in 1962, and the footballing Pandora's box of cynicism, diving, ultra defensiveness and win at all cost tactics were unleashed on the footballing world.

Upto 1962, Italy had won two world cups, so to say their footballing pedigree was shaped after this may sound strange, but world cups pre-1945 had been attended by few teams, and those that did largely sent part time squads. Italy, in the grip of an extreme Nationalist government had been an exception, sending powerful squads in the 1930's to win the cup to boost the regime's nationalistic message. Yet post 1945 had become a struggle for Italy, with the increased status of the competition attracting the world’s best, and the emergence of footballing powerhouses like Brazil, they were left considerably behind. The situation was underlined in the 1962 World Cup when Italy, fuelled by ignorant remarks about the opposition country and host nation, Chile, would be embarrassingly crushed in a game that has forever marked not only Italy’s, but the tournaments worst moment in history (look up the Battle of Santiago).

The saviour of Italian football came in the shape of part Argentinian, part Swiss-French origin. The result was Catenaccio, "the chain" or "door bolt" tactic pioneered by Helenio Herrera, the Inter manager of the 1960's. Having watched both the national team, and domestic teams being battered by higher levels of skill, Herrera switch to a highly defensive, counter attacking system that abruptly stopped the Iberian domination of the European Cup, and switched the power in Europe to Italian teams.

The Milan clubs would dominate Europe in the mid 60's, changing the footballing world by playing 7 defensive contributors where other teams would play 7 attackers, and pick pocketing their oppositions flimsy defensive sets on the break. Yet Catenaccio, in its purest form, would not survive long. Its man marking systems were based on old systems, systems that adapted quickly to its ways. When Italy cruised to the 1970's final, they met a Brazilian team who had schooled themselves in an emerging Dutch philosophy of "total football", and they were smashed apart 4-0, their rigid system crumbling like a pristine castle built on quicksand. Total football would be the death of the resurgence in Italian football, breaking down the man marking system of Catenaccio with a fluid positional system that carved holes in defensive systems by dragging man markers out of position, and abruptly stopped the counter attacking prowess with zonal defensive systems that allowed attacking players to drop into more defensive systems when without the ball. The switch in power was most represented by Ajax's brutal 6-0 defeat of Milan in 1973; Catenaccio may have become the spiritual essence of Italian football, but in less than a decade, it was already on its deathbed.

The defensive mentality in Italian football would stay however, and Enzo Bearzot managed to successfully blend Catenaccio football in the late 1970's into a new system, the Zona Mista, a tactic that employed zonal marking systems in a solid, negative basis, to combat the fluidity of contemporary attacking systems. This Zonal system was supplemented by the emergence of the Regista, a tactic borrowed somewhat from Brazil's use of Rivellino in a similar playmaking position, and the Trequartista, an attacking midfielder that linked the midfield and the strikers. The system worked brilliantly, and Italy managed to beat the highly favoured Brazilians to the 1982 world cup win employing a possession retention, defensively solid, system. The win was made or the more impressive considering the attacking quality of Brazil, who’s Zico and Socrates partnership in midfield was considered absolutely unstoppable. Catenaccio may have died, but had been reborn and reshaped into something ultimately more daunting.

In their purest forms, Catenaccio and Zona Mista no longer exist, but their legacy was to cast its shadow on modern day Italian teams. The focus on defensive qualities, and that of ball retention, has meant that Italy have been blessed ever since the 1970’s with some of the best defenders the modern game has ever seen; most countries would be lucky to produce a defender of Maldini, Cosatcurta, Bergomi, Panucci, Nesta, Cannavaro or Baresi’s quality…. Italy can boast that for a 20 year period, there was 4 of these making up their defence in virtually every game they played, and behind them Buffon and Walter Zenga would be convincing arguments for best goalkeepers of all time. Their focus on the quality of the Trequartista has also produced some of the world’s finest attacking link men, and in Pirlo and Albertini, they have produced Regista’s of timeless quality.

With this defensive quality, it’s no surprise that Italy have become arguably the hardest team to beat since they last won the world cup. While Platini’s men knocked them out in Mexico in 1986, in 1990/94/98 they were knocked out every time on penalties without conceding in the match, and in 2002 they were the victim of appallingly biased referring(Spain also) when playing against host nation South Korea, a game in which they convincingly won without the ludacrious goals disallowed, and then rewarded, by the referee, and won the competition with a textbook display of defensive power in 2006.

Since 2006, the Italian footballing scandal and the drop in standards in the Serie A has meant that Italian football has had to adapt. The domestic game, once the biggest challenge in the world and a hugely difficult league to score in, has become far more attacking and adventurous in order to save the fans that have, to some extent, turned their back on the game. This change in style has meant that Italy no longer produce the elegant players like Pirlo, or the defensive walls previously mentioned. Their new powers lying in power, fitness, high tempo/high energy football.

Yet while it has been quite an easy job to implement a new style of football domestically, Italian teams have struggled to impose their new found style on other teams. Since Inter last won the Champions League 5 years ago, employing a classic Catenaccio style under Mourinho, no Italian team has progressed passed the Champions League quarter final, and when they have got that far, they have been convincingly beaten. Italy may have commanded their qualification group for the World Cup, but they could only muster clean sheets in three matches, and drew 4 times away from home (against Armenia/Bulgaria/Denmark and the Czech’s). In the 2013 Confederates Cup, they conceded 4 to Brazil, 3 to Japan, 2 to Uruguay. Since the turn of 2013, they have kept one clean sheet.

So what to expect from Prandelli’s Italy? If recent times is a measure, then 4-5-1/4-3-3 is the system that Prandelli will go with, having not picked Osvaldo in the final squad of 23. He has experimented with 4-1-2-1-2 systems in the recent past, but only when Pirlo was rested, and when Osvaldo played with Balotelli upfront.

The main key to Italy lies in the central midfield positions. Thiago Motta is most likely to partner Montolivo in working hard to create space, the former will drop back to shield the defence, the latter more likely to venture forward and assist with attacks. Their main role is to get Pirlo the ball, and in positions where his extensive passing range and quality can produce chances. Pirlo maybe now at the twilight of an incredible career, and he no longer possesses the work rate or pace to play any defensive role for Italy, but on his day he can still destroy even the best teams with his creativity. It is still a central midfield three with much quality, and that can cause much problems. Acquilani, Veratti, Marchisio and De Rossi provide more than adequate cover.

In defence, we notice where Italy’s problem lies. While Chiellini is no doubt a match for any centre-back in the world on his day, he has lost some pace in recent years, and being partnered by Barzagli or Ranocchia, any team that possesses the speed and passing ability to get behind the Italians will score goals. In order to make up for the lack of pace, Prandelli has tried to mimic a growing trend in Serie A by picking wing backs, but unlike Conte’s system at Juventus or Napoli’s typical recent tactics, has done it with a 4 man back line, and not inside a 3-5-2 system. This means that Abate, Maggio, De Sciglio and Pasquel, three of which have played regularly on the wing, will be expected to support attacks and keep teams on the back foot, rather than trying to defend. Pasquel has been a late emerging pick to give balance to the side, but at 32 lacks the motor of the other to get up the pitch, and hardly solves the question of a slow back line with his inclusion. In essence, the full backs should Bonera and Pasquel not be chosen to start, are not that sound defensively, but the only compromise it to sacrifice pace against two sides absolutely brimming with it. Buffon is vastly experience, but is now very old, and may have seen better days.

Of the Forward three, it is hard to see what formation Prandelli plans, as he has experimented quite a lot in recent times. While the balance of the team, and the type of players he has picked, indicate that he has ignored the Trequartista and Shadow Strikers, and intends to play either three central strikers, rather than a left wing/right wing and central player. The most likely combination, if that is the case, would be Rossi and Balotelli being supported by Candreva or Cassano, yet this formation has provided Italy with a lack of width in the past, and I could see Rossi being farmed to the left, Balotelli in the centre, and Cerci on the right, which would give them pace and goal scoring ability on each flank, and allow the full backs to work with the wide men to drag markers away from Pirlo in the centre, which is where they really want.

All in all, in trying to change and adapt, Italy may fall on their own sword. Quite interestingly, teams like Real Madrid (vs Bayern Away), Chelsea and Athletic Madrid, who all made this year’s champions league semi-final, did so by adopting the Catenaccio stage at various stages in the competition, and to much success when they needed to get through against the attacking prowess against them. Real Madrid was the most incredible, as they did not possess anywhere near the defensive quality expected to play the disciplined brand of football, yet executed it to aplomb. Prandelli is risking a lot going against the established grain of a cultured and established footballing style, and what is increasingly becoming a style that even teams who are reputed for attacking regard as a necessity. After decades of being alone in their negativity, it seems ironic that now Catenaccio has been embraced by the world, they would ditch it and redraw up the plans.

In the end I have to be honest; I cant see the experiment working, and their best player may not be fit enough for such an intense tournament. Italy simply cant win this tournament, even by trying to shock teams with a more gung-ho approach, and they may well consider it a success to finish second in the group. The England fan in me knows we wont beat them, but my head thinks that Uruguay and England possess way too much power and pace to lose to them. This is a fact Prandelli knows only too well, as his latest press conference seem to uncover more than a little apprehension about facing both teams.

While it’s a shame, surely they will fall at the first hurdle?
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Re: World Cup Preview -Italy

Postby SaintPowelly » Tue May 27, 2014 5:40 pm

I have a mate whos a big Juve fan, so I watch quite abit of Italian football, as a topic of discussion with him, and to be blunt, the standard of Italian football is AWFUL.

Its like a poor version of the Premier League, all the best players are foreign : Tevez,Higuain,Hamsik,Callejon,Vidal,Pogba to name a few.

Buffon will presumably be Italys no.1 and hes had a season of clangers, their attack will contain Osvaldo and Balotelli who are 2 of the more volatile and disruptive players in the world, their 'star' player Pirlo has had an average season and quite frankly been made to look a lot better by his outstanding ( at times ) partner Pogba.

Can't see Italy going far, but will still probably beat England.
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Re: World Cup Preview -Italy

Postby sussexpob » Tue May 27, 2014 5:42 pm

their attack will contain Osvaldo


didn't make the 23.
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Re: World Cup Preview -Italy

Postby SaintPowelly » Tue May 27, 2014 5:48 pm

sussexpob wrote:
their attack will contain Osvaldo


didn't make the 23.


I heard he wasn't naming a squad until after the Ireland game on the weekend.

Glad he isn't there, doesn't deserve it.
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Re: World Cup Preview -Italy

Postby sussexpob » Tue May 27, 2014 5:51 pm

SaintPowelly wrote:
sussexpob wrote:
their attack will contain Osvaldo


didn't make the 23.


I heard he wasn't naming a squad until after the Ireland game on the weekend.

Glad he isn't there, doesn't deserve it.


We are both wrong, and both right. Osvaldo didn't even make the 30 man squad, the 23 is announced on the 02 June.

Interesting, as a 23 man squad has been put on FIFA.com, but when you read through it there are 30 names.
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Re: World Cup Preview -Italy

Postby SaintPowelly » Tue May 27, 2014 5:52 pm

I thought teams had to submit a 30 man squad to FIFA...teams like England only choosing 23 was personal choice to not getting hopes up.
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Re: World Cup Preview -Italy

Postby mikesiva » Tue Jun 03, 2014 8:41 am

That was very interesting, SP...I didn't know that about Italy's football history.
:salute
I think Italy may just surprise us, and scrape their way, 1994-style, into the final....
Nobody has a stance quite like the mighty Shivnarine....

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