Montolivo injury means little to Italy or Lions at World Cup
A broken leg for any player on the eve of the World Cup is always a shame. AC Milan captain and Italy midfielder Riccardo Montolivo will now miss the Brazil finals after sustaining such an injury in the Azzurri’s penultimate warm-up friendly.
Cesare Prandelli’s side, who are 6/4 favourites to top the group England (2/1) have been drawn in at the tournament, alongside Uruguay and Costa Rica, were held by the Republic of Ireland at Craven Cottage.
There can be little doubt this was a better result in the circumstances for Martin O’Neill and his team, as they look towards Euro 2016 qualification, than the Italy contingent bound for South American soil.
Regular visitors to Coral’s news and World Cup sites should be aware by now of how pragmatic Prandelli is in his approach to football. Against Ireland, he went with a midfield diamond and young pretender Marco Verratti in the deep-lying playmaker role usually reserved for Andrea Pirlo.
It was O’Neill’s outfit that impressed more. What the Republic lacked in possession, they more than made up for in creating chances and getting them on target. Although the only stat that really matters was the 0-0 final score, Ireland made reserve Azzurri stopper Salvatore Sirigu save seven shots.
David Forde, occupying the other goal, in contrast, was worked just twice from 15 efforts by an Italy attack that had a nod to the future until just before the hour mark. Ciro Immobile, Serie A’s leading scorer this season, despite this somewhat amusing name for a striker, is relatively raw at elite level with just a couple of caps under his belt.
Partner up top Giuseppe Rossi, meanwhile, continued to rebuild his match sharpness after yet another injury-interrupted campaign, but Prandelli has cut him. AC Milan firebrand Mario Balotelli remained benched, as the recalled Antonio Cassano (Parma) and Immobile’s Torino teammate Alessio Cerci were thrown on as substitutes.
England are unlikely to be afforded the same luxury, as former Manchester City forward Balotelli should start on June 14th. Montolivo was the fifth-most experienced international selected on Prandelli’s preliminary roster with almost 60 caps to his name but, if there is one area where the Azzurri can afford to lose a player, then it is surely midfield.
Effective in that deep-lying position or a more advanced role, other inclusions like Alberto Aquilani, a club colleague of Rossi at Fiorentina and once on Liverpool’s books, and Claudio Marchisio (a Scudetto winner yet again with Juventus) are equally versatile.
Montolivo’s absence may alternatively be offset by Prandelli picking wide players – the likes of Lorenzo Insigne, a Coppa Italia winner with Napoli this term; Cerci or Antonio Candreva, a favourite of the coach from Lazio, for example.
Three Lions fans who weren’t hiding behind the sofa at the conclusion of the Euro 2012 quarter-final may remember Montolivo missing his penalty. Needless to say, it was Italy’s only blemish in their shoot-out win.
A regular in qualifying for Brazil and at the Confederations Cup last summer, there was no doubt Montolivo was clearly part of some tactical plans put in place by Prandelli. Should he send the Azzurri out with wing backs or width further forward at the World Cup finals, however, then there is simply no room for a midfield quartet.
Metronome Pirlo and the tough-tackling Daniele De Rossi of Roma are locks to start in the engine room, despite both being 30 and over. Aquilani and Marchisio are a year either side of Montolivo, so Italy are far from lacking in experience or leadership in this area.
Second guessing Prandelli is enough to keep Roy Hodgson restless in this final fortnight before England resume battle with Italy. The Three Lions are 11/5 to upset the four-time World Cup winners, who start as 6/4 favourites to begin Group D with victory. A draw is 15/8, but all we can say for certain about this encounter is that Montolivo misses out.