England encouraging, but another Azzurri tactical triumph
In four major tournament meetings, Italy, 16/1 shots with Coral to win a fifth World Cup in Brazil, have always beaten England. That stat does not quite tell the whole story, however, of their latest battle in Amazonian humidity rather than heat.
Cesare Prandelli lost his on-field leader and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, as well as defender Mattia De Sciglio, in the build-up to the Azzurri’s World Cup opener. The left back berth has been a real problem in recent years with no natural successor to Fabio Grosso, who struck the winning Italian penalty at the 2006 edition of this tournament.
Pragmatic coach Prandelli continues to ignore the credentials of Domenico Criscito, once again omitting the Zenit St Petersburg man from a final tournament squad, despite his recovery from a cruciate ligament injury long before Brazil.
The Azzurri boss decided to apply a typically outside the box solution to this issue. Italy’s wing focus all came down the right-hand side and they profited from England setting up with Wayne Rooney wide left, as he seldom afforded Leighton Baines any protection.
A collapsed lung for Napoli’s Christian Maggio back in the spring meant he was never likely to be risked in the subtropical climate. That meant right back became an issue, because of the stop-start and struggling season endured by Azzurri understudy Ignazio Abate at AC Milan.
Matteo Darmian of Torino was a total unknown outside Italy before the England encounter, but his raids up this flank to support favourite Prandelli pick Antonio Candreva were eye-catching. The Lazio winger missed out on FIFA’s official Man of the Match award to Mario Balotelli, but totally justified the faith placed in him by his national coach.
Candreva crossed for the former Manchester City forward, who ploughed a lonely furrow for long spells up front, to net the winner early in the second half. A lopsided approach allowed the Azzurri to flood midfield with bodies when England had possession, although that didn’t always prevent Raheem Sterling running at them.
Prandelli’s selection of Argentine-born Gabriel Paletta, once briefly of Liverpool, was less successful, however. He was dragged out of position time and again by Daniel Sturridge, and in one such instance the Three Lions striker cancelled out Claudio Marchisio’s opener.
It makes no logical sense to split up a three-time Serie A winning defensive trio of Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Chiellini. Their success at Juventus has not happened by accident – just 67 league goals let in during 114 outings in those campaigns, which is little more than one conceded every other game.
Even with Chiellini at left back, they remain a unit which brings a little bit of everything with them, so punters can expect Prandelli to contemplate changes to his rear-guard. Costa Rica are a different animal, and that means Italy’s coach will pick personnel to reflect that.
Few can dispute Azzurri status as odds-on Group D favourites, both to top the pool at 4/11 and 1/10 for qualification, because of the dismal showing from Uruguay, although England (10/11 to reach the knockout phase) are still ahead of Costa Rica (11/8) in the betting. While Prandelli is Italy boss the old saying, ‘life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get’, always applies.