Grazie Azzurri

Posted by Sumeet Paul

Sunday night in Kiev and the Euro 2012 final, it proved to be a game too far for the Azzurri. Optimism had grown in line with confidence inside the Italy camp. Having comprehensively defeated the Germans in the semi-final, it was a reunion with an old Group C foe. The tournament began with a draw against Vincente Del Bosque’s Spain, and it was to draw to a close against them too. Despite the harsh score-line, and while you must hold your hands up to superior opponents, it has been a wonderful journey for Cesare Prandelli and his men.

© PA Photos

From the group stages to the final, the restoration of pride in the national side has progressively been achieved. Prandelli revealed in his pre-match press conference that “the objective was to make people fall in love with the Azzurri again. I think we achieved that and I’m very happy about it”.

The build-up to the tournament was far from ideal. Allegations of match-fixing and recent results conspired to have many believing this would be a transitional Italy looking to make it out of the group. Further, there were lingering doubts over which tactical formation was most effective, with Italy switching from a 3-5-2 to a 4-3-1-2 mid-tournament. Yet for all the criticism and questions asked of them, Prandelli’s side answered them in stylish fashion and by overcoming their struggles. While the results have been impressive, it was the manner in which they were obtained that changed the identity of the Azzurri in the eyes of many, and had Italians believing again.

Spain continue to prove they are indeed the best international side in the world at this moment in time. Under fire for a change in mentality that some regarded 'boring', they delivered when it mattered and showed the real Spain. Italy ended the tournament as the only team to register a goal against them, but with the final proving too difficult an obstacle. Several players admitted to being tired ahead of the game, while injuries sustained by Giorgio Chiellini and Thiago Motta attested to that.

Perhaps fate conspired against Italy too, reduced to ten-men for the last thirty minutes, effectively ending any chance of a comeback. Yet for all the heartache of the final, Euro 2012 should be remembered fondly. It is the tournament that crowned the beginning rather than the end. Dismissing their reputation of ‘catenaccio’ football, Italy have announced their new approach. With Prandelli at the helm, given more time to implement his ideas and bring in new faces, the future is promising. It is particularly assuring that he confirmed he will remain in charge until 2014.

In my first blog post I commented ‘the journey in Poland and Ukraine could either represent real progress under Prandelli, or come too soon in the cycle of change’. The former Fiorentina coach has implemented his philosophy successfully, and laid down the foundations for the upcoming World Cup qualification campaign. Gone are the stereotypical ‘defensive’ views, opinions have been altered but with that now comes a new level of expectancy.

The players and coaching staff deserve a warm welcome on their return home, for they have done their country proud and made Italy a side that should be respected once more. From Toto Di Natale’s goal against Spain, via Andrea Pirlo’s magical displays, through to Mario Balotelli announcing himself in the semi-final. It has been a tournament to remember, grazie Azzurri!

For all the reaction to Italy's Euro 2012 campaign and the latest Serie A news, you can follow me on Twitter @italiafooty .

Super Mario, super Italy

Posted by Sumeet Paul

Since his arrival in the Premier League, Mario Balotelli has been described as a man with two sides. ‘He can be Super Mario or Stupid Mario’ the saying goes. On Thursday night in Warsaw, Balotelli was very much his super alter-ego. His brace, coupled with another inspirational team performance saw Italy overcome Germany to book their place in the final. It required a little luck, a whole lot of grit and determination, and another brilliant display to seal a memorable win which now sees Cesare Prandelli’s men face Spain in Kiev on Sunday.

© AP Images

From the pits of the World Cup campaign in South Africa, the euphoria in Poland and Ukraine has emerged just two years later. It has been an incredible transformation and evolution under Prandelli, to whom much of the credit must go. No longer blessed with the talents of Francesco Totti, Alessandro Del Piero or the like, this new group of players have shown they are committed to making their country proud whilst simultaneously playing a highly entertaining brand of football.

‘The important thing is we set an example of how much we care about this jersey and everyone should show respect when talking about Italy’ – Cesare Prandelli

Prandelli has injected new life into the national side, changing the mentality, personnel and tactical approach. The qualification campaign was impressive, yet only those inside the country and those with a keen interest out of it were aware of the new Italy. Fortunately, now on a global stage, the Azzurri have displayed their new strengths and are now reaping the rewards. It all began against Spain on June 10, and whatever the result, the tournament will end against Spain on July 1.

Questioned and perhaps quietly criticised ahead of the match for the lack of a clinical front pairing, it all seemed to click at the most important stage of the competition. The vision of Antonio Cassano and Riccardo Montolivo was complimented by the prolific nature of Balotelli’s goals, to which Germany had no answer, albeit Ozil converted a late penalty. With Andrea Pirlo striding around the middle of the pitch alongside the tireless duo of Claudio Marchisio and Daniele De Rossi, there seems to be a perfect blend and chemistry between the midfield quartet. Gigi Buffon and his defensive unit looked solid once more, with Leonardo Bonucci growing into the side along with club team-mate Andrea Barzagli, who deserves more recognition.

With the side in transition, little was expected from Italy at Euro 2012. An improvement on events in South Africa and a national side the country would fall in love with were detailed in Prandelli’s job specification. The former Fiorentina coach has done both, taking Italy much further than most would have predicted.

‘We are certainly living a dream and with us millions of Italians. We want to keep dreaming and make it come true on Sunday. This was a stepping stone and now we have the final peak to conquer. We believed in this dream, and now we want to lift that trophy’. Do we dare to dream with Chiellini? Spain stand in the way of what would be a simply historic achievement, can Italy complete the job and become champions of Europe?

For all the latest news on Italy at Euro 2012, you can follow me on Twitter @italiafooty

Azzurri assemble

Posted by Sumeet Paul
“We will run a few risks, but will always try to play football. The confidence is there for all to see. We’ll meet a team that has belief and won’t be afraid of anyone, it is going to be a fascinating encounter.” – Cesare Prandelli.

© PA Photos

Previous encounters with Germany have provided historic moments, goals and results. Italy remain unbeaten in major tournaments against the Germans, but Thursday night’s semi-final clash will be a thorough assessment of how far Prandelli has evolved this squad. Widely tipped as favourites along with Spain at the outset of the competition, Germany will present the Azzurri with an opportunity to prove their worth amongst the best, yet also ask questions and lay bare any weaknesses. With several key players pushing to return from injury in time to feature, can Prandelli inspire his men to another victory?

Following the quarter-final win over England, much attention has been placed on Andrea Pirlo and how the Germans can effectively shut him down. While it is evident that the Juventus man is an integral component in this Italy side, the likes of Daniele De Rossi have also excelled and grown into their roles. Defensively sound thus far, combative in midfield, the only worry is whether chances will be taken. Whether the Cassano-Balotelli partnership continues is debatable, with Antonio Di Natale and penalty-scoring hero Alessandro Diamanti pushing to feature. In addition, consideration must be given on how to most effectively stop Mesut Ozil, who is undoubtedly one of the most gifted players in Europe.

Such was the level of performance from the team against England, expectations have now risen. Having progressed further in the competition than many would have predicted, Pirlo amongst others admitted this week that they arrived in Poland and Ukraine to win. Prandelli will be boosted by the potential return of three key figures in Ignazio Abate, Daniele De Rossi and Giorgio Chiellini, should they all fully recover in time. It is fair to assume he will continue with the 4-3-1-2 formation, and hope to stamp the same possession-based attacking style of play they so successfully implemented in the last round.

There is no doubt that Italy will have to raise their level of performance on Thursday night. In various situations against various teams, they have adapted and successfully reached the last four against all predictions and expectations. Can they book a place in Sunday’s final in Kiev against Spain? One can only hope. To do so they will need a 'team of 11 lions', and a monumental effort from all to overcome Germany. La Gazzetta dello Sport led with 'Senza Paura' ('Without fear'), while describing the injured trio as 'gladiators' for returning so soon, as with every game if this is to be the Azzurri's last, hopefully it is without regrets.

For all the news on Italy at Euro 2012, you can follow me on Twitter @italiafooty .

No Spain, no pain - Part II

Posted by Sumeet Paul
© PA Photos

Andrea Pirlo. Much has been said about the performance the Juventus ace put in against England on Sunday night. Words such as genius, magical and peerless haven’t been far away when discussing both his display in the 120 minutes and that penalty. The Azzurri were dominant, having recovered from a slow start they quickly and predictably took control of the game. Yet for all their possession they lacked that end product their play deserved. Roy Hodgson’s England, happy to allow the Italians to dictate play, were resolute and organised - how roles were reversed in the eyes of many on-looking pundits and supporters. Italy deservedly progress to the semi-finals to play Germany, where they will undoubtedly face a much tougher task.

Credit must be given to England for withstanding such pressure and producing a superb back-line performance. On the rare occasion they were able to break, particularly in the opening stages of the match, they looked dangerous. However, equally as impressive as when they had the ball at their feet, was the constant pressure Italy put their opponents under without it, forcing mislaid passes and winning 50/50 tackles. The inability to finish off goal-scoring chances remains a concern, especially given the possession and passing statistics. It has not yet cost Italy considering their progress to the last four, but it will do so eventually. In contrast it was refreshing to see the Azzurri dominate the game so comfortably and play the style of football that Cesare Prandelli had hoped to see.

Ideally, the game would have ended after the 90 minutes. Daniele De Rossi and Riccardo Montolivo were both guilty of spurning glorious chances, while all that the tireless performances of Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli lacked was that all important goal. Nevertheless, it was a team display to be proud of, and justice was eventually done as Alessandro Diamanti slotted home the spot-kick that ensured a date with Germany. There have been some fascinating encounters between the two nations, most recently the World Cup semi-final in 2006.

Despite coming terribly close to writing this blog without a mention for the sections of media, pundits and players in England that I spoke of in my last post, it is frankly not going to happen. So quick to write Italy off, it is indeed the Azzurri who extend their stay in Ukraine. Shockingly, while most have lauded Pirlo for his majestic display, there are those who still can't bring themselves round to it. Certain individuals have described Pirlo as slow, weak and old - perhaps we're watching a different Pirlo. The Andrea Pirlo I watch every weekend doesn't just stand on the spot waiting to receive the ball thus allowing 'Rooney to track back' or 'Parker to get tight'. The Pirlo I watch constantly looks around him before moving into space ready to play his next ball while others are two steps behind. There is no other like him, he is every bit the genius.

Injuries are beginning to become a concern, Giorgio Chiellini is in a race to return, while De Rossi and Ignazio Abate picked up knocks. Prandelli will hope they can all feature on Thursday night, especially the Milan full-back, with Christian Maggio ruled out through suspension. 'Let's go! An Italy that win' [Gazzetta]. 'Enormous!' [Corriere] 'We are the lions' [Tuttosport]. Regardless as to whether the Azzurri progress any further, they have exceeded many people’s expectations and now go into Thursday's clash with confidence, but very much as the underdogs. Pride in the national team is slowly being restored. They must not be as wasteful in front of goal again should chances fall their way, as the Germans will not be as generous. As for England, good thing they avoided Spain in the quarter-finals...

For all the latest news on Italy at Euro 2012, you can follow me on Twitter @italiafooty

No Spain, no pain

Posted by Sumeet Paul

‘No Spain, no pain’. ‘Why so nervous boys, it’s only the Italians’. ‘Missed the game [Germany’s 4-2 win over Greece], do we have anything to fear from the Germans if we get pasta Italy?’ ‘We will do the Italians #fact’.

The aforementioned newspaper headlines, quotes and tweets are a selection taken from the coverage the English press and former players have given ahead of the quarter-final meeting with Italy. While the Gazzetta dello Sport amongst others focus their analysis on both tactical and individual battles across the pitch come Sunday night, the majority of their English counterparts are busy planning for the semi-final.

© AP Images

Seemingly forever painted as a boring, defensive side full of aging stars, the Azzurri have quickly been written off. Despite troubles in the second-half against Croatia, and an indifferent performance in the win against Ireland, this team arguably deserves a little more respect. While difficulties have arisen in their Euro 2012 campaign thus far, there have been signs of the more expansive and attacking football Cesare Prandelli has tried to implement, but granted this is far from the best Italy we have ever seen. England captain Steven Gerrard admirably reminded most in his post-match interview after the Ukraine win that the game against Italy is not a foregone conclusion and will be a difficult prospect. Unfortunately his words had a short-term effect, if any effect at all on some who are now planning their route to the final having now avoided Spain.

In addition, the fascination with Mario Balotelli continues. Despite giving a truthful and rather sensible press conference ahead of the game, ‘Super Mario’ was picked up on his ‘more a man than Peter Pan’ comment as opposed to his ‘I intend to give my all in this game’ response. TV coverage is dominated by mentions of match-fixing scandals, a negative counter-attacking 'catenaccio' Italy, yet while Greece are lambasted for their approach, do Roy Hodgson’s England really play that differently? Despite having a huge amount of respect for Hodgson, and a likeness for many of the England players who are vastly more talented than most other squads, unfortunately some sections of the media do them no favours. Is this the same in Italy? In short, it is not. The Gazzetta dedicated itself to various talking points in Saturday’s edition, including De Rossi v Gerrard, the battle on the wings and with Rooney, and also the midfield duel, a semi-final with Germany seems a long way away at this moment in time.

“We must match their intensity, aggression and I’m convinced if we can find the right tempo then we can have a great performance. For us it is a challenge against a great side and we want to play without fear, managing to maintain the right concentration for the full 90 minutes to find our chances. We’ve got to be in the game at all times.

We are not the best, but have the determination and hunger to bring Italy back to being the best. We’ve improved a great deal in recent weeks and so far are satisfied, but now must add on these big knockout matches against top teams.” – Cesare Prandelli

The Azzurri must make do without Giorgio Chiellini on Sunday, and will reportedly stick with the 4-3-1-2 formation that faced Ireland in the last group game. Having watched both sides at great length, it is likely that Prandelli’s men will see plenty of the ball. It is imperative that they are clinical in front of goal as chances will fall their way, but must also remain alert at the back as the pace of England’s front-men will undoubtedly cause problems on the counter-attack. This Anglo-Italian clash is finely balanced, with both nations looking to restore pride after disappointing World Cup campaigns two years ago. The game will represent a fascinating tactical battle, with English pragmatism coming up against an Italy side that likes to play a possession based attacking system.  If this is to be Italy’s goodbye to Euro 2012, let us hope they go out showing the same spirit and determination as they did in the group games, and without any regrets.

For all the latest news on Italy at Euro 2012, you can follow me on Twitter @italiafooty

Azzurri progress

Posted by Sumeet Paul

“Suffering, joy, everything!” Much like for Cesare Prandelli, the ninety-minutes in Poznan provided a variety of emotions for supporters as progression to the quarter-finals hung in the balance. Pre-match tension took some time to disappear, with Antonio Cassano easing nerves just after the half-hour mark. Anxiety was then replaced with relief once Mario Balotelli sealed the win in injury time, only to be replaced with an agonising wait for the conclusion of events in Gdansk to confirm safe passage. Italy’s win over Ireland, coupled with the Spanish victory against Croatia ensured the Azzurri’s Euro 2012 journey continues into the knock-out stages of the tournament.

Having reverted back to the previously favoured 4-3-1-2 formation, several changes were also made to the starting line-up with Federico Balzaretti and Ignazio Abate most notably impressive on their respective flanks. With all sorts of permutations in Group C, the main focus was on gaining all three points against an Ireland side looking to avoid exiting the competition with three defeats. Despite a brave performance from Giovanni Trapattoni’s men, it was Italy who prevailed, and on the back of consecutive draws could finally celebrate a win. After all the ‘biscotto’ controversy which dominated headlines ahead of the game, conspiracy theorists and cynics were left to discuss how it never even came close to fruition.

Despite sealing victory, there are still several areas of concern that Prandelli may look to address ahead of the next game on Sunday. Having dominated periods of play during the game, the Azzurri still struggled to make their possession and chances count, giving way for a period of nervy almost backs-against-the-wall defending to hold on to their lead.

Furthermore, they seemed to fade again as the game progressed, countered on this occasion with the introduction of the energetic duo of Alessandro Diamanti and Mario Balotelli. While Andrea Pirlo was perhaps not at his best, more crucial will be the news regarding Giorgio Chiellini’s injury. The Juventus stopper pulled up in the second half, with Italy chief doctor Enrico Castellacci stating a muscular problem in the left thigh, and admitted ‘we are a little worried’ as to whether he will feature on Sunday and perhaps beyond. There are still doubts as to which is the preferred system, but depending on injury news, the 4-3-1-2 may be forced on Prandelli. While the full-backs excelled, the switch in system had a detrimental effect on others in the midfield, who struggled with their change in position.

Overall, a point apiece with reigning European and World champions Spain, a similar result against the impressive Croatia, and a hard-fought victory over a rugged Irish side has seen Italy reach the quarter-finals. Post-match, both coach and players alike were keen to stress the tournament now starts again, with England, France or Ukraine lying in wait. With Cassano and Balotelli registering their first goals of the competition, one would hope it will boost their confidence going into Sunday. Credit must also go to Leonardo Bonucci, who sensibly silenced ‘Super Mario’ who appeared ready to broadcast a message to the media following his goal. ‘He said something in English, so I’ve no idea what it was! Unfortunately, Mario is very instinctive and that is also his strength. Without that personality he wouldn’t have scored such a great goal’. With his intervention, attention will remain on Balotelli’s contribution coming off the bench, whether he should start there again in the next match is up for debate.

The Azzurri showed signs of resolve and growth as the group games progressed, now they must show they have the spirit, quality and determination to extend their adventure. With a little luck on the injury front and a few tweaks from Prandelli, it is still wildly unpredictable as to what they can achieve, using a well-known football maxim, it will very much be a case of taking it one game at a time.

For all the latest news on Italy at Euro 2012, follow me on Twitter @italiafooty

Must win game ahead for Azzurri

Posted by Sumeet Paul

Billed as the decisive match in Group C, there comes no truer example of a game of two halves. Dominant, assured and energetic could best describe the first forty-five minutes from an Italian perspective, yet they were replaced by nervy, rattled and lethargic at the end of the second. Andrea Pirlo’s delightfully curled free-kick had given Italy the lead, but Croatia were a different prospect after the break. The Azzurri now have a meeting with a familiar face on Monday night, knowing that they must defeat Giovanni Trapattoni’s Ireland to hold any hope of progressing to the quarter-finals.

There was much optimism following the draw with Spain on Sunday, and it appeared Cesare Prandelli’s men were in confident mood as they carved out numerous chances in the first half. The movement from the front two and midfield was equally as impressive as the passing on display, with Italy playing some eye-catching football. Yet for all their pressure and possession, they were unable to convert it into goals, a fear highlighted in a previous blog after Sunday’s game. While Mario Balotelli again looked full of running, the Manchester City striker looked anxious when presented with goal-scoring opportunities, while Claudio Marchisio was denied by a brilliant double-save from Stipe Pletikosa. Pirlo’s post-match reaction perhaps best sums up the feelings of the Azzurri camp:

“We could’ve finished off the game with another goal in the first half, then went too deep after the break and it’s a shame Croatia got that equaliser.
“Today the team did well and we’ll see what to do on Monday. Goals are everything in football and hopefully we can start getting a few more of these chances in the net.”

It is perhaps unfair to place the blame solely at the feet of any particular individual. Collectively, Italy dropped deeper and deeper as the game progressed, forgetting their new style of play in a bid to conserve their lead. However, for consecutive games a momentarily lapse in concentration and error of judgment has cost them dearly. First Emanuele Giaccherini losing the run of Cesc Fabregas, secondly with Giorgio Chiellini misjudging the flight of the ball in the lead up to Croatia’s equaliser. While the opposition have shown a clinical edge in front of goal, it is a glaring omission from Italy’s Euro 2012 campaign thus far.

Much has been made of a potential ‘deal’ being made between Spain and Croatia on Monday, with the conspiracy theorists and cynics making light of the possibility a 2-2 draw would see both countries progress at Italy’s expense. The Azzurri have been there before, suffering an early exit at Euro 2004 after Sweden and Denmark played out the very same score-line. It is difficult to foresee either side even contemplate that particular notion from a professional stance, even more so with the title of group winners at stake, a sentiment shared by Thiago Motta:

“I’m sure Spain will try to beat Croatia whatever happens. We are professionals and I doubt there would be an agreement at the Euros.”

Minds must be focused on the task in hand, a win against Ireland is the objective. Prandelli will be aware of the improvements that must be made, while the players must be more clinical. Whether he will make any changes remains to be seen, the 3-5-2 system has worked relatively well to this point, perhaps a change of personnel up front is an option he may exercise.  FIGC vice-president Demetrio Albertini commented after the game that ‘there is only disappointment that we didn’t get the win, but there is no despair’. He along with all concerned in the Italy camp will hope that that disappointment doesn’t turn into despair come Monday night, for Italy would have only themselves to blame.

For all the latest news on Italy at Euro 2012, follow me on Twitter @italiafooty

This is Italy

Posted by Sumeet Paul

Pitted against the reigning European and world champions in their first game at Euro 2012, Italy secured a well deserved share of the spoils in Gdansk on Sunday evening. A short-lived lead courtesy of substitute Antonio Di Natale was cancelled out by Cesc Fabregas, yet the performance from Cesare Prandelli’s men was nevertheless impressive. Pessimism surrounded la Nazionale ahead of their tournament debut after recent events, but following a hard-fought draw they now have confidence heading into Thursday’s meeting with Croatia.

Predictably, La Furia Roja dominated possession and dictated much of the play at the Gdansk Arena, yet when presented with an opportunity to build play themselves, the Azzurri prevailed and looked dangerous going forward. Having opted to field a 3-5-2 formation with Daniele De Rossi operating in central defence, the Roma man excellently combined his defensive duties with the responsibility of linking the backline to the midfield. Elsewhere, making his international debut, Emanuele Giaccherini performed admirably operating on the left flank, while others produced decent displays given the nature of the game and opposition. Andrea Pirlo proved vital with his assist for Di Natale, while the likes of Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli were tireless if not at their sparkling best.

“The important thing is that they did what I asked, playing well when passing vertically, and gave our all. This is Italy.”

Prandelli was content with his side’s display yet fully aware that they still face a difficult task to ensure qualification into the knockout stages of the competition. Following Croatia’s win over Ireland on Sunday night, Italy must be cautious in their approach of their next opponents. A defeat would see Slaven Bilic’s side move to six points, and with Spain perhaps favourites to take maximum points from their two remaining games, the Azzurri could find themselves struggling to progress. However, having adopted an optimistic mentality for the tournament, it is clear that this Italy side has the potential to match the best and will undoubtedly give an admirable account of themselves regardless of the result.

While it is difficult to see any other side ruthlessly probing away at the Italian defence with such vigour as Spain, a few doubts remain. There is still a lack of a clinical edge up front. Balotelli, Thiago Motta and Claudio Marchisio all had chances to register their names on the score-sheet yet failed to do so. In the final games of the group Italy will go from underdogs to favourites, with the onus shifted on them it is possible these missed chances could cost them going forward. The introduction of Fernando Torres also asked questions of De Rossi that he struggled to answer, which opens the debate over whether Prandelli should stick with the 3-5-2 or revert back to a back four with the likes of Nikica Jelavic lying in wait. That aside, it was refreshing to see this team pushing for the victory until the very last minute and displaying the new mentality Prandelli has instilled in his players. Back in Italy, the reaction was so positive La Gazzetta dello Sport led with 'Bell'Italia. Ti vogliamo cosi!' ('A beautiful Italy, we want you like that!').

Despite captain Iker Casillas admitting that "the draw was the right result - a point each was fair", his team-mates were less impressed. "The field was not in good condition and this damaged us," Xavi said. "It’s shameful that nowadays we should still have to play on this surface" were the words of Fabregas. Andres Iniesta added that "the pitch was in disastrous condition". Complaints aside, few will argue Italy didn’t deserve at least a point, now the Azzurri must face Croatia with the same spirit and hopefully take a significant step towards progression with all three points.

For all the latest news on Italy at Euro 2012, follow me on Twitter @italiafooty

In Prandelli we trust

Posted by Sumeet Paul

Much has changed since a forlorn Azzurri side trudged off the pitch at Ellis Park in Johannesburg two years ago. Marcello Lippi and his ‘old guard’ of 2006 are no more, in his place stands Cesare Prandelli, ushering in a more exciting footballing philosophy and with it a number of new faces. Seemingly forever stuck with the stereotypical view of a defensive side, this Italy has the potential to perhaps not win Euro 2012, but to change opinion, lay the foundations for a bright future and be considered an outside contender.

Controversy appears to move in unison with Italian football and as history suggests usually ahead of big international tournaments as in 1982 and 2006. The Azzurri prepare for Poland and Ukraine in the midst of yet another match-fixing scandal. Having named a preliminary 25-man squad list, Prandelli was forced to omit Domenico Criscito after the Zenit St Petersburg man was placed under investigation for his alleged involvement. With question marks lingering over his defensive teammate Leonardo Bonucci, coupled with the tragic earthquake, which hit northern Italy this week, resulting in the cancellation of a friendly meeting with Luxembourg, it is fair to say preparation has been far from smooth sailing. It is perhaps worth noting however, in both 1982 and 2006, Italy were victorious despite off-field distractions.

Despite this, during his tenure, Prandelli has successfully replaced the old traditional counter-attacking Italian style of play with a possession-based game that has yielded significant results. An impressive undefeated qualifying campaign, which saw them concede just two goals, was matched with a friendly win and draw against Spain and Germany respectively.  In contrast, recent results have been disappointing considering the early signs of progress. Consecutive 1-0 defeats to Uruguay and the USA, the most recent coming in February, have seen Italy dominate possession, create chances but fail to find the back of the net. The most recent outing, the sole friendly ahead of Euro 2012 against Russia, saw the Azzurri crash to a 3-0 defeat, yet talk of crisis is slightly exaggerated. A lack of sharpness in front of goal, coupled with two howlers resulted in a deceptive outcome. However, while it is easy to suggest Prandelli’s men will be ready come June 10, the absence of goals and defensive mistakes are worrying signs just a week before the tournament begins.

There remain a few familiar faces from the Italy of old. Having successfully helped guide Juventus to the Scudetto this season, both Gigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo will be integral to any success this summer. Pitted in a difficult group alongside Spain, Croatia and the Republic of Ireland, Prandelli will be fully aware of the task ahead. While most will look toward Spain as the most testing, there should be no room for complacency against the latter two, especially considering the events of two years ago involving the likes of New Zealand and Slovakia. “I am sure we will be mentally and physically prepared for Euro 2012” said FIGC Vice-President Demetrio Albertini after the defeat to Russia, while Prandelli commented: “Paradoxically it might be better to lose so badly tonight, as we have our feet back firmly on the ground and know how much we have to work.”

While the ninety minutes against Russia posed more questions than answers, there is still much debate over Prandelli’s favoured formation. A 4-3-3, 4-3-1-2 or a 3-5-2 all remain possibilities, with the flexibility and adaptability of the players at his disposal allowing tinkering should it be necessary depending on what the scenario dictates. With little margin for error, the journey in Poland and Ukraine could either represent real progress under the former Fiorentina coach, or come too soon in the cycle of change.

Follow me on Twitter @italiafooty for all the latest news on Italy throughout Euro 2012

Italy axe Ranocchia and Destro

Posted by Sumeet Paul

Andrea Ranocchia and Mattia Destro have been left out of Italy's 23-man squad for Euro 2012 but Leonardo Bonucci is included despite the match-fixing crisis engulfing the country.

Head coach Cesare Prandelli was forced to drop Domenico Criscito on Monday after it emerged the left-back is being investigated by police with regards the match-fixing probe in Italy.

Prandelli has now further whittled his squad down from 25 ahead of UEFA's deadline for the June tournament, with centre-back Ranocchia's exclusion meaning Bonucci could start their Euro 2012 Group C opener against holders Spain in Gdansk on June 10.

Bonucci's name has been mentioned in testimony during the match-fixing probe but he has not been formally put under investigation and has denied any wrongdoing, while the Italian football federation is happy with the Juventus defender's inclusion.

Italy's 23-man squad

Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Morgan De Sanctis (Napoli), Salvatore Sirigu (Paris St Germain)

Defenders: Ignazio Abate (AC Milan), Federico Balzaretti (Palermo), Andrea Barzagli (Juventus), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Christian Maggio (Napoli), Angelo Ogbonna (Torino)

Midfielders: Daniele De Rossi (AS Roma), Alessandro Diamanti (Bologna), Emanuele Giaccherini (Juventus), Claudio Marchisio (Juventus), Riccardo Montolivo (Fiorentina), Thiago Motta (Paris St Germain), Antonio Nocerino (AC Milan), Andrea Pirlo (Juventus)

Forwards: Mario Balotelli (Manchester City), Fabio Borini (AS Roma), Antonio Cassano (AC Milan), Antonio Di Natale (Udinese), Sebastian Giovinco (Parma)