World Cup 2014: Positives from Italy’s Campaign

Italy didn’t experience the best of World Cups – not by their own prestigious standards, or the standards of anyone else for that matter. The Azzurri were eliminated in the group stage with one win and two losses to show for it. One of those losses was to an underrated Costa Rica side, the other loss was marred by near-cannibalism. Regardless, Italy didn’t just miss out on the knockout rounds because of a singular incident (although you could make a case with Suarez’ bite…)  they looked slow and uncreative at times.

Once you get past these maladies, there were some bright spots to be had. Here are a few of them.

Matteo Darmian

The 24 year old Torino right back burst onto the scene in his competitive debut for Italy, combining with Antonio Candreva to terrorize England down the right flank in both team’s opening game. Darmian looked solid defensively as well and was one of six Italians to start every game. The others? Established starters Claudio Marchisio, Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli, Andrea Pirlo and Mario Balotelli. That’s pretty good company for a player who made his international debut just weeks before the tournament began. The performance helps Darmian even more so because it solidifies his hold on the position. With Ignazio Abate unable to hold down the position and Christian Maggio getting older, Italy may have found their right back for the next eight years.

Salvatore Sirigu

At age 36, captain Gianluigi Buffon doesn’t look like he’s slowing down, but at some point he won’t be around to mind the net for the Azzurri. For a while, no keepers embraced the mantle of Buffon’s successor. At one point in time, you could have pegged it on Marco Amelia or Federico Marchetti, but both have fallen by the relative wayside. Now the title firmly belongs to Salvatore Sirigu. The 27 year old shot-stopper is already a full-time starter at French giant PSG, arguably one of the top clubs in the world. Winning games in Ligue 1 and the Champions League is one thing, but winning and playing well at the international level is a completely different animal. Sirigu, starting for an injured Buffon, performed admirably against England in Italy’s win. He looked solid in goal all game, and would have kept a clean sheet had it not been for a smash of a goal from Daniel Sturridge that few goalkeepers could have stopped.

Marco Verratti

Another member of the Italy’s “heir-apparent club” is Verratti. Like his PSG teammate Sirigu, is the long-term replacement for another Azzurri legend, Andrea Pirlo. Unlike Sirigu in goal, you can play more than one midfielder in a game, so Verratti is afforded the rare opportunities to play alongside the man he may one day replace. At 21, he was arguably one of Italy’s best and most consistent players at the World Cup. Like Pirlo, he is a superb passer and regularly is handed starts at the club level ahead of the likes of Javier Pastore and Yohan Cabaye.

Giuseppe Rossi

This isn’t fair, Rossi didn’t make the team that went to Brazil. Nonetheless, he remains a bright spot. Why? Because of the role he will play in the future after Italy’s attacking options faltered in South America. Of the five forwards Cesare Prandelli brought to the World Cup, Alessio Cerci and Lorenzo Insigne only made two substitute appearances. Besides those two, you had the trio of Ciro Immobile, Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli. Immobile, still only 24, looked nothing like the goal-scorer he was at Torino. Cassano looked exceedingly sluggish and seemed to struggle physically. Balotelli’s play meanwhile was once again, mercurial. Except this time, it took a downward trajectory as opposed to his previous positive displays in an Italy shirt. After scoring against England, he was relatively quiet and missed a key chance to score versus Costa Rica. However, his yellow card against Uruguay changed the game in a bad way for the Europeans. This meant, if Italy advanced, they would have been without their most dangerous striker. On top of that Prandelli took him out to avoid going down to ten  men only to see the referee give Claudio Marchisio a straight red a few minutes later. The point I’m making with Rossi is that none of Italy’s strikers wowed anyone in Brazil. Together they managed just a singular goal. Teams need goals to win, and Italy needs players who can get them those goals. Sure, the Azzurri have a superbly talented group of midfielders who can score, but the team needs strikers who can consistently put the ball in the back of the net. They know that they have that in the New Jersey born Rossi.

World Cup 2014: What We Learned From Day 2 of the World Cup

  1. Mexico players could be kicking themselves over those disallowed offside goals

El Tri’s 1-0 win over Cameroon could have been more commanding. A 1-0 result and three points are great for Mexico to open the tournament, but you would have liked to think that the Mexicans would have been more comfortable in terms of qualifying for the next round with a 3-0 or even 2-0 win. The point is that goal differential could be key in Group A. Brazil is obviously the favorite in the group, but should Mexico run into a situation where they are even on points with Croatia and they finish behind the Europeans by virtue of goal differential, they could be “kicking” themselves for not staying onside before scoring, or simply not being happy with the refs.

  1. Brazilians don’t like Diego Costa

All throughout Friday’s Spain/Netherlands heavyweight tilt the local fans relentlessly booed Brazilian-born Costa, who plays for the Spanish. You get the impression that they don’t fancy him all that much.

  1. Spain are definitely trending down

La Roja got exposed big time against the Netherlands, getting burned on numerous occasions on the counter and just looking poor in defense. If there was ever a time to question the defense of the Spaniards, it’s now. It simply wasn’t there for Spain. Another reoccurring issue for Spain is the fact that they were again stymied by a three-man defensive line. Italy has used a three-man back-line to great effect against the Spanish and now Holland has done it as well. The defending champs just looked like the walking dead, the defense especially.

  1. The Dutch are for real

Just as it’s premature to completely count out Spain, it’s probably a little premature to bump the Dutch to co-favorites or favorites. But… the Netherlands annihilated the defending champs. Annihilated.  They look potent and sharp on the counter and simply didn’t allow the Spanish to play the way the Spanish want to, especially in the second half. If this team can beat Spain this convincingly… who knows what they can accomplish?

  1. Chile at their best are entertaining

Chile plays kamikaze football. They press high with numbers up the pitch. When this works, the Chileans can put up a wonky score line. The South Americans will sometimes press everyone forward with the exception of the two center backs, who will sit at mid-field. The entire team plays high up. Because of this they can also be scored on in droves. It’s an ultra-aggressive style of play, but one that has benefited the Chileans so far.

1992 VS 2012: Which Olympic Team Wins?

Yes. If you haven’t figured it out, I was born in 1996. But even though that was four years before I was born this is a topical post that’s interesting to me so, moving on…

Who would win if the 1992 Dream Team squared off with the current chapter of the Men’s Olympic Basketball team?

We’ll never know of course. If we did know, then time machines would work and the magic of Back to the Future would be lost on us.

The one glaring difference between the teams is their respective post presences, or lack thereof. The Dream Team was stocked with Hall-of-Fame-worthy big men who dominated the paint: Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing and David Robinson led that elite group. While this year’s contingent is stocked with… Tyson Chandler. Similar, I know.

(The Secret Word is… Sarcasm)

While ’92 was more well rounded, with dominance at every position, the current team is more wing oriented and athletic. LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, James Harden and Andre Iguodala form a daunting group of wing players. They are fast, and athletic, they’ll run up the score and force turnovers on you at will. Plus, most of them are in their prime, or some stage of it. LeBron is probably at his best, if not nearing his best play. Kobe is coming off one of his better seasons. While Durant is just entering his prime years, and Harden and Iguodala are fresh off respective breakout years. Carmelo Anthony is pretty good too.

But can this team beat the Dream Team? One of the best, if not the best, team in sports history?

The wings would definitely cause the ’92 team a problem or two. Guys like Magic and Bird were at the tail end of their careers and might have issues guarding some of these guys. But the flipside to that is that Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were in their prime. Two of the best defenders ever, I would certainly take them defensively over most, if not all, of the current guys.

So would the 2012 version of the Olympic Men’s National Basketball Team beat the 1992 version? No, they wouldn’t. I’m not even sure if 2012 could beat the 2008 version.