Euro 2012 Preview: Italy
The Azzurri are one of the most decorated national teams in the history of the game. They have won an astonishing four World Cups (only Brazil have a better record), one European Championship and one Olympic victory,sealing the goal media for the nation. Italy have also produced some of the best players, managers and teams in football (I could list them but I would be here forever and I’d miss someone out as well) and were the proponents of the catenaccio style. However, in the last World Cup they failed to make it out of a group containing New Zealand, Slovenia and Paraguay.
How Did They Qualify?
With an undefeated record, winning eight, drawing two and conceding two goals in ten games. Judging by that, there won’t be many better defenses around. It is worth noting the despite the phenomenal record in qualifying they did draw 0-0 with Northern Ireland and their game with Serbia was called off because of rioting Serbia supporters and Italy were awarded a 3-0 victory.
Cesare Prandelli took the reins from Marcelo Lippi who was in charge for the disastrous aforementioned South Africa 2010 World Cup campaign. In his two years with Italy he has lead them to Euro 2012 with ease and has had good friendly results over Germany and Spain who are fellow favourites for the tournament. In club management Prandelli has won a couple of promotions from Serie B but his best spell came as boss of Fiorentina where he regularly overachieved and got the club into the Champions League.
Andrea Pirlo – 33 – Midfielder
Last summer after a long and successful career at AC Milan, Andrea Pirlo left the club on a free transfer and headed to Juventus. What happened next must have left Milan full of regret as Juventus pipped them to the title with an unbeaten league season, with Pirlo one of the major protagonists. An experienced player in a transitional Italy side, Pirlo also has an exceptional range of passing.
Mario Balotelli – 21 – Striker
The Manchester City player is a potentially world class talent, a maverick but a potential liability. Everyone knows Mario’s on and off pitch antics, some hilarious and amusing, some stupid and petulant that could have ultimately cost his team. However, given that Antonio Cassano is recovering from near death and Giuseppe Rossi is out for the tournament Balotelli is certainly a risk worth taking, especially when you consider he has scored 17 goals in 32 appearances for his club this season.
Gianluigi Buffon -34 – Goalkeeper
A mainstay of the national squad for the last 15 years, Buffon is now the captain after taking over from a retiring Fabio Cannavaro. Buffon has experienced a World Cup win and has just won Serie A again with Juventus. Even at his age, he is still one of the best goalkeepers in football.
How Far Can They Go?
Semi-finals must be a minimum expectation for the Italians. Solid in qualifying and with some good friendly results they will go into this tournament with confidence. However their group isn’t easy. Spain, Ireland and Croatia won’t mean a straightforward passage to the knockouts. However if they make it out of the group, the last four is achievable as a minimum.