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.

2014 World Cup: Competition is Wide Open

The 2014 FIFA World Cup is winding down. Gone are the days of the group stage where four games took place on the same day. Arrived are the quarterfinals. The final eight. While pre-tourney favorites Brazil, Argentina and Germany are still alive, but they have looked flawed. As have teams like France and the Netherlands who have impressed since the first kick.

The final eight is loaded with favorites and under-dogs alike, but many have looked vulnerable so far.

Hosts Brazil may have been the field’s biggest favorites, but they have looked anything but perfect so far. They survived by the scruff of their necks in their penalty shout out win against Chile due more to the Chileans inability to convert penalties then anything they did themselves.

It wasn’t just the surviving act against their fellow South Americans, Brazil looked susceptible in the group stages. They were shout out by an admittedly strong defensive Mexican unit, looked shaky early against the Croatians and even struggled for a period against a dreadful Cameroon side.

Brazil aren’t the only South American team to struggle at times in both the group stage and the knockout rounds, Argentina also struggled. The Argentines needed moments of brilliance from Lionel Messi to pull away from Bosnia, Iran and to an extent Nigeria. That’s not mentioning their Round of 16 game against Switzerland where they escaped penalties only thanks to a late strike by Angel Di Maria.

Another tournament favorite, Germany also looked human at times. After their sheer domination of Portugal, they didn’t look like favorites in a draw against a spirited Ghana squad before escaping the United States in a 1-0 win thanks mainly to a clinical, world-class finish from Thomas Muller. Algeria gave the European powers everything they have, and almost forced penalties in a 2-1, extra-time victory by Die Mannschaft. There’s also the fact that Jogi Low seems to prefer playing four center-backs across the back instead of two central defenders, and two outside backs. This limits the Germans going forward and also exposes them to quicker attacking wide players.

Other teams that struggled in the first round included the Netherlands and Belgium. The Dutch played a strong Mexican defense, and only won the game due to some late game heroics. For 80 minutes, it seemed as if the Europeans would crash out after an impressive group stage. Their Belgian counterparts played the US to a dead-lock after 90 minutes. They prevailed in extra time 2-1, but only after their now trademark late scoring. Belgium has thrived on goals late in close games. The competition will only get tougher, so the Belgians could find their late goals too little, too late against elite teams. The Red Devils also seemed to break down physically at the end of the Round of 16 contest, letting the United States back into the game. This could be an issue moving forward.

The tournament is wide open thanks to the struggles of nearly every team in the competition. While picking a winner seemed somewhat easy a month ago, now it seems more difficult despite fewer options.

World Cup 2014: 5 Things We Learned from Day 3 of the World Cup

  1. Greece will struggle to score

The Greeks struggled to create scoring chances for much of the game against Columbia. While this strategy is excusable when you don’t allow any goals, it makes for a long day when the other team is scoring against you. It won’t get easier as the Greeks will have to face the physical Ivory Coast and the technical wizards of Japan. This group is being dubbed the “Group of Life,” where everyone has a shot to advance. Greece needs to shows signs of life offensively to have any hope of advancing.

  1. Costa Rica is no pushover

That could have been the headline after a first half where Costa Rica played well and only conceived a well-struck penalty to Uruguay. However, the Ticos came roaring back for a historic win. This put a colossal dent in Uruguay’s hopes moving forward, but also gave Costa Rica a huge chance to move forward.  The CONCACAF reps not only beat their South American counterparts, but they also controlled the game and kept the likes of Edinson Cavani and Diego Forlan in check.

  1. No Buffon, no problem for Italy

Italy was without legendary ‘keeper and captain Gianluigi Buffon for their clash with England. His replacement: PSG shot-stopper Salvatore Sirigu was superb in the 2-1 win. The Italians were deserving of the win, and Sirigu was vital in the match. The fact that the team was able to adapt so well without their leader, Buffon, speaks volumes to the quality of Cesare Prandelli’s side.

  1. Italy should have their group rapped up

One would think that the Azzurri are now in control of the “Group of Champions” as a win versus Costa Rica on Thursday would clinch passage to the next round for the 2006 champions. Especially considering that if they beat the Ticos (not a foregone conclusion, just ask the Uruguayans) they could be facing an Uruguay side potentially without Luis Suarez. The South Americans looked derived of creativity in their walloping by Costa Rica, if Suarez can’t make it back, it could be a very brief stay in Brazil for last year’s semi-finalists. Should Italy win all three games, they would face the second place team from Group C. Which, if Columbia wins, will be Japan, Ivory Coast or Greece. That’s a more pleasant route than finishing second in the group, facing Group C’s winner, likely Columbia, beat them (not a forgone conclusion) and then potentially run into Brazil. This is all guess-work and forecasting at this point, but winning the group definitely holds a much easier outlook for Italy.

  1. Is there a changing of the guard in the Ivory Coast Squad? Not yet

Iconic striker Didier Drogba started the Ivory Coast’s opening game on the bench as Wilfred Bony was handed the start instead. Bony responded with a goal, but the African side scored both of its goals in the 2-1 win after the former Chelsea legend’s introduction into the game, cementing his importance.

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.

2014 FIFA World Cup Preview: Handicapping Brazil’s Biggest Competition

Brazil is going into the 2014 FIFA World Cup as favorites. Not only are the Brazilians a tremendously talented team with the quality to win a World Cup, they are also the host nation. These two factors put them as one of the favorites, if not the overall favorite. If the Selcao can replicate the form they showed at the Confederations Cup, they could be lifting another trophy.

Here’s a look at the home country’s biggest competitors come next summer.

Spain

The Spanish are the defending champion. That in itself makes them a favorite. Take that and add the quality of the players that Spain’s team is littered with, and La Roja will go far. Spain’s issues are in the back and up front. They still haven’t settled on a number nine, and aren’t the best in central defense. Throw in the fact that Iker Casillas may be rusty and/or slowing down by next summer, and you have some problems. Spain could face problems against complete teams like the Selcao, Germany and Italy. The midfield dominance will win del Bosque’s team some games and keep them in some more, but upper-tier countries will give Spain issues.

Italy

Spain won’t be the only European power that could upset Brazil’s apple cart. The Azzurri will also be strong. Italy may not come off as a side that belongs in the “Spain, Brazil, Argentina, and Germany” discussion, but that may be the best thing possible for the Italians. Since Cesare Prandelli has taken over, the peninsula’s football team has gained a reputation of playing strong in big tournaments. Prandelli likes to use friendlies as a way to experiment with his team, trying different players in different formations. All that experimenting has led strong showings in top competitions. Italy redeemed themselves in Euro 2012 not only by playing Spain tight in two games, but also beating England and demolishing Germany on their way to the final. Italy has performed well in tournaments, but they are also the “bogey” team for many teams. The Italians have never lost to England in a World Cup and are unbeaten against Germany in all competitions. They also hold the distinction of being the first team to figure out how to crack the puzzle that is the Spanish.

Germany

A rare mix of technical efficiency and physical dominance, Germany are one of the favorites in Brazil. Like Spain, their strength is in their midfield. Bastian Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos and friends are almost a younger, more athletic version of Spain’s midfield. Sticking to similarities with the Spanish, Germany could have problems at the number nine spot. Miroslav Klose is getting up there in age. There are injury concerns with other strikers, so goals from that spot could be a problem. The Germans will have no issues at the back as Manuel Neuer remains one of the best keepers in the world.

Argentina

Brazil’s closest competition from a geographical, the Argentines’ strength is a ruthless attacking force that includes Angel Di Maria, Erik Lamela, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero and, of course, the worlds’ best, Lionel Messi. Argentina’s attack is so absurd, I’m not even going to write about their ok defense. The Argentines’ success will depend on their attack, and to an extent, Messi. If Messi is on, the South American side will be tough to stop. On the other hand, if Messi is injured, or off his game, then this team will be somewhat easier to beat. Argentina’s offense will carry them. Whether that leads to a World Cup remains to be seen.

 

Be sure to check knowhitter on a regular basis for more about the World Cup, and sports in general.

2014 FIFA World Cup Draw: Winners, Losers and Teams that Must be Careful

Winners-

Argentina

An easy group for Lionel Messi and friends. A group of Iran, Nigeria and Bosnia and Herzegovina is the closest thing to a cake walk as you can get. If the French play up to their potential and win Group E. Argentina could be looking at one of Ecuador, Switzerland or Honduras in the next round. (This assuming they win their group. Going out on a limb.)

France

Les Bleus were arguably seeded with weakest of first two, maybe three pots: Switzerland, Ecuador and Honduras.

Columbia

One of the tournament dark horses have drawn the “group of life” with Greece, the Ivory Coast and Japan. The draw isn’t the easiest, but it is certainly doable.

The Group G Winner

Should this be Germany, the winners will take on the runner up out of a group of Belgium, Russia, Algeria and South Korea in the next round. The Germans could be looking at quarterfinal group.

Brazil

Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon isn’t the easiest group, but it surely isn’t the hardest. That group and home-field advantage should allow Brazil to progress with ease.

Italy’s Knockout Round Chances

Group D certainly isn’t easy. Italy was dealt a blow when they were moved to the second pot. They should they win the group, which is something that isn’t out of the question. Then they get the runner-up out of a foursome that includes Colombia, Greece, the Ivory Coast and Japan. Even if Italy was to finish second, the winner of Group C isn’t going to be that much more difficult than the runner-up.

Belgium

Another dark-horse pick who got a kind draw.

Germany

The Germans have the defensive prowess to shut down Portugal Ronaldo. Ghana and the United States will be tough, but if Germany plays to its fantastic potential, they should win this group. Not only that, but they avoided perennial bogey team Italy. The only way the Germans and Italians meet is in the Final.

 

 

Losers-

Spain

La Roja have to play a Chile team who has played them tough recently. The Netherlands aren’t exactly a walk in the park either.

England

Stuck in an awfully tough group with Italy who nipped them at previous Euros as well as goal-scoring Uruguay.

USA

The Americans have a horrendous travel schedule to match a horrendously tough group. Old World Cup friend Ghana, Germany and a Cristiano Ronaldo-led Portugal team, await the Yankees in the group stage. If there was ever a “group of death,” this would be the one.

Group A and B’s runners up

These teams could face Brazil and Spain, respectively, in the semi-finals.

 

 

Teams that have to be careful-

England

Diego Forlan, Edinson Cavani, Luis Suarez and the attacking prowess of the Uruguayans will cause the British many problems. If Luis Suarez has his way against the English the same way he has had against Premier League opposition, it could be a long day for the Three Lions. That’s not to mention a disciplined Italian side that knocked England out of the last European Championships.

 Mexico

The Mexicans may feel like they got an ok draw despite being in a group with Brazil, but games with Cameroon, and especially Croatia, will be tougher than expected.

Portugal

The Portuguese struggled to qualify, and got into the cup mainly on the back of Cristiano Ronaldo. It’s a tough task to shut down Ronaldo, but should it happen, Portugal is very beatable if they’re facing a quality side.

Spain

Chile has played Spain tough. There is the smallest chance that Spain doesn’t get through with Chile and the Dutch progressing. That’s probably not going to happen, but the possibility is there. Problem team Italy could await them in the quarterfinals. Spain has had troubles with the Italians of late.

Argentina

The Argentines will run through their group with ease. After that will be the issue. The team will be riding high entering the next round. A potential knockout round matchup with France could spell trouble for them purely based on the fact that Argentina could hit a wall playing a tough team after obliterating three comparatively less-touted sides.

 

Check back before the World Cup for more analysis on the event.

2014 FIFA World Cup Draw: Losers

Spain

La Roja have to play a Chile team who has played them tough recently. The Netherlands aren’t exactly a walk in the park either.

England

Stuck in an awfully tough group with Italy who nipped them at previous Euros as well as goal-scoring Uruguay.

USA

The Americans have a horrendous travel schedule to match a horrendously tough group. Old World Cup friend Ghana, Germany and a Cristiano Ronaldo-led Portugal team, await the Yankees in the group stage. If there was ever a “group of death,” this would be the one.

Group A and B’s runners up

These teams could face Brazil and Spain, respectively, in the semi-finals.

 

Check back later for my piece on teams who must be careful.

2013 Confederations Cup Group A Primer

The Confederations Cup is a strange event, a warm up for the following year’s World Cup, and it even takes place in the same country. The Confederations Cup takes the winner of each regional cup (i.e. the winner of the European Championship gets a bid, as does the CONCACAF winner, etc.) as well as the reigning World Cup winner and the host country and throws them into a mini junket of a tournament.

The Confederations Cup is strange; let me re-emphasize, it’s strange. This year’s field features reigning World Cup champ and two-time reigning European Champion Spain. They are clustered in a group with South American champion Uruguay, surprising Oceania winner Tahiti and equally surprising African Cup of Nations winner Nigeria. The other group is the scarier of the two, with host country Brazil, CONCACAF winner Mexico, Asian powerhouse Japan and Italy. Italy is here based on the fact that they finished second in the European championship last summer. Because Spain won the World Cup and last year’s  aforementioned Euros, the team can’t occupy two slots; so Italy, as runners up,  get the Euro spot.

The Cup is strange for a number of reasons. One, participation doesn’t necessarily mean entry to the World Cup the next year. Iraq and Egypt participated in the 2009 Confederations Cup and didn’t appear in the 2010 WC. The second reason that it’s strange is because it’s hard to call this a major worldwide tournament without the usuals in the field. With a smaller field, it’s hard to imagine a tournament with this magnitude and with these implications with only one, or in this case two, of the European giants that dominate the footballing landscape. Or in other words, it’s odd to watch a major tournament and know that you are going to get as many touches on the ball as the entire German, French, Dutch and English national teams are.

The Host

A lot has been made about Brazil’s talent and that talent failing to win a WC in the last decade. The team also failed to win the Olympics last summer, further fueling frustration. But the one thing Brazil has done, and done well in the last decade, tournament-wise, has been winning the Confed Cup (as the kids call it.) Brazil is the two-time defending champion and will look to make it three in a row this summer. While this tournament’s trophy would be nice, I’m sure the South Americans would trade it in in a heartbeat if they could win the cup’s more prestigious “older brother,” if you will, next summer.

Brazilian football is often synonymous with technical genius. Thus everyone expects this of the South American powerhouse, but Brazil’s best asset may be that of its defense. The host nation will deploy some combination of Dani Alves, David Luiz, Marcelo, Dante and skipper Thiago Silva at the back. Any three or four of the group would be among the best in the world.

Prediction- The 19th ranked (lowest in country history) side in the world will have trouble with the tournament’s toughest group. All three teams have the quality and potential to make it to at least the knockout stage, not only in the field, but next summer as well. Brazil will get second in the group and likely bow out to Spain in the next round.

The Dark Horse

The Samurai Blue, as Japan is called, is this year’s dark horse. Like Brazil, they are saddled with the de-facto group of death. However, given the chance in a game Japan is very dangerous. Just ask the French, who the Japanese beat 1-0 in Paris. The Asian bread winners are very technically gifted, led by Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa and free kick master Keisuke Honda.  We’re not talking Andrea Pirlo good, but he’s still better than nine out of ten guys at free kicks. Yasuhito Endo is another to watch on set pieces.

If you give Japan too many set pieces, they will tear your goal to shreds. They could thrive against young, inexperienced squads who foul a bit too often.

Prediction- Japan will give its group a lot of trouble, and could win a game, but third place in the group and a delayed off-season vacation plan is all that’s likely in store for Alberto Zaccheroni’s troops.

The Danger Men Man

Mexico will either be in fine form come Brazil, or gasping for air. The team already drew Nigeria 2-2 on May 31st courtesy of a Chicharito brace and face an away tilt in Jamaica on the fourth of June before playing in Panama three days later against the home country before taking on Costa Rica in Mexico City a mere five days before opening the Confederations Cup against the Italians.

(Gasping for air after reading that sentence aloud.)

El Tri’s previous six games haven’t exactly been a joy ride. All six have been draws. Three of them scoreless draws. Not to mention two of the scoreless ties were at home to Jamaica and the US in World Cup Qualifying. The other three draws were the aforementioned 2-2 deadlock with Nigeria, bailed out by Chicharito’s aforementioned brace. The Mexicans were also bailed out by another Javier Hernandez brace away to Honduras in WCQ and managed a 1-1 draw with Denmark thanks to a penalty. What I’m getting at is that while Mexico has talented players with the likes of Giovani Dos Santos and Javier Aquino, the weight of the team falls on Chicharito. Stop him and you get three points, or at the very least a point by draw.

Prediction- If Chicharito (that’s four usages of the word Chicharito, oops, sorry five usages of that word for all of you playing along at home.) goes on a tear, Mexico has the talent to possibly win the whole thing. But the bold prediction is that they get last, finishing behind Japan in their group by virtue of a Honda free kick in a 1-0 win. Bold indeed.

The Seasoned Bunch

You have Euro 2012 to thank for Italy re-establishing themselves as a worldwide player in the game of football. After a disappointing performance in South Africa in 2010, Italy was picked as nothing more than group-stage fodder by many a talking head in Euro 2012. The Italians shocked everyone by not only holding eventual champion Spain to a draw in the first round, but also knocking out England on penalties as well as dispatching the in-form Germans in the Semi-Final.

Italy is a well-rounded team. They have perhaps the best “spine” in the world. The spine of Gigi Buffon in goal, the center backs Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci in defense, the deep lying playmaking of Pirlo, the industry of Daniele De Rossi and Claudio Marchisio and the ruthless goal scoring of Mario Balotelli. Outside of the spine, Italy has talented players such as Stephan El Shaarawy, Riccardo Montolivo and Ignazio Abate to fill out a talented team sheet.

Italy has been very unspectacular in friendlies as of late. They lost to France in Parma 2-1. They let the Netherlands think they were going to win 1-0 before stealing the latest of equalizers to escape Amsterdam with a draw and split four goals down the middle in a 2-2 draw with the Brazilians in Geneva in late March. Almost any country would take draws against the likes of the Netherlands and Brazil, as well as a close loss to France as a good sign, but when you are of Italy’s standard, more is expected. Even though the team has been uninspiring in friendlies, it hasn’t been as bad as one might think. Italian coach Cesare Prandelli likes to use friendlies to tinker with his lineup, fine tune it and see which players play well together. This strategy seems to have worked thanks to his excellent showing at the most recent Euros and in Italy’s utter domination in WCQ where they have scored three times as many goals as they have let in on their way to sitting atop the group table.

Prediction- Italy has what it takes to win it all. They’ll win their group on the last day of the group stage before beating whichever team finishes second to Spain in Group B, finally triumphing over the Spaniards in the final. All the while being glad that a resurgent German side is watching from their couches.

So just to recap, I have Group A finishing in this order- Italy, Brazil, Japan, Mexico.

Check back soon for my Group B Primer.

How do you think Group A will play out? Tell me in the comments section below. 

Six Things We Learned from Italy After the Netherlands Friendly

(Disclaimer: I don’t profess to know a ton about football. I just love the beautiful game.)

  1. Andrea Pirlo’s genius, pace and the fouls/free kicks he draws. Some people play on a whole other physical level, or a whole other level in terms of speed. The latter is Pirlo. (Also, isn’t it nice that in football/soccer, wherever you’re from, a players is simplified to just one name? Even if he hasn’t shortened his name to one name. Messi is called Messi when his full name is Lionel Messi, etc. Anyways, it lends itself to lazy typers like me, and the rest of the world for that matter.) Pirlo plays the game almost methodically. You know when basketball gurus say that the game has “slowed down” for some players? That’s Pirlo. He slows it down. While the tempo killing can sometimes be hard to watch, the Italian midfield maestro always makes the right pass, even if he has to slow down to do it. Expanding on that, especially in the match against the Dutch, everyone else was going 110 miles an hour (if you will) while Pirlo was cruising at a comfortable 85. The result of this is that a lot of hand checks and fouls that might go un-noticed were noticed as Pirlo drew multiple free kicks by simply playing at the speed he feels comfortable playing. I should also point out his genius. Which he is, by the way. Every game there are about three to four plays where he makes a pass that could open up the defense. If your defense gives Pirlo milk and curds he turns it into Swiss cheese. (Especially if he’s playing against the Swiss.)
  2. Buffon does it again. Where Pirlo makes three or four passes that unlock the defense, Gigi Buffon makes three or four saves that the average Joe keeper wouldn’t make every game. He did this again on multiple occasions against the Dutchmen.
  3. Sub Par? Not to say that the starters were lacking, but the substitutions of Pablo Osvaldo, Alessandro Diamanti, Alberto Gilardino and Marco Verratti certainly changed the game in a positive way.
  4. Slick Whats? The field was very slick in case you didn’t notice. At least half a dozen players hit the turf, one of which quelled a promising Italian attack.
  5. Friendly Strategy. (That faux headline didn’t work, but stick with me.)  Cesare Prandelli certainly isn’t using friendlies to get results. The Italy head-man consistently uses friendly games to test younger players and tinker with different pairings and lineups ahead of major tournaments. He’s using this strategy for the upcoming Confederations Cup as well as the Azzurri’s likely World Cup spot in Brazil in 2014.
  6. It’ll Work. Eventually. Italy’s spearheaded attack of Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Shaaraway seemed to be a bit stagnant in the first half. While the Osvaldo/Diamanti/Gilardino trident worked, the former group will likely be the long and short-term options up front. They’ll figure it out eventually, playing together that is. After all they both play for AC Milan. They’ll be tested and ready by Brazil.

If I missed anything from the game that you thought was mention-worthy, tell me in the comments section.