PERHAPS the most interesting stat in the qualifiers was that only Spain had more possession than Italy.
The stat certainly backs up the notion that Italy are now a far less defensive team than the old clichés would have you believe. The Azzurri will look to pass the ball through midfield and wait for an opportunity to score rather than sit and wait for opponents as they have done in the past. Italy isn’t among the fancied favourites and do face a tough group, but with a more positive attitude about the squad than at the last World Cup (where they were embarrassingly eliminated in the first round) Italy go be somewhat of a pleasant surprise.
Cesare Prandelli, the reason for Italy’s change to am more positive style, has enjoyed steady improvement in his first two years in charge. The ex Fiorentina coach comfortably led the his side through the qualifiers (Italy’s best ever Euro qualifying campaign) and has had promising friendly results with a draw away to Germany and win over Spain. He’s also brought a code of ethics to the squad leaving out the likes of Daniele De Rossi, Pablo Osvaldo and Mario Balotelli out of squads after collecting red cards for their clubs. The result is a squad that seems close together, eager to impress, and motivated to redeem the embarrassment of 2 years ago.
While Prandelli often likes to talk about the collective ability of the squad there’s no denying that rejuvenated midfielder Andrea Pirlo is key to Italy’s plans. The 2006 World Cup winner has been brilliant for Juventus this season - the conductor of their title winning side. A master of the chipped through ball, Pirlo will play in front of the back 3 or 4 and look to dictate proceedings from his deep midfield position. The form of Pirlo will be crucial to Italy’s game plan of possession football.
A player known to English audiences, in particular Swansea and Chelsea fans, striker Fabio Borini could provide the killer instinct that Italy sometimes lacked in qualifying. He’s got tremendous work rate and his versatility along the forward line gives Prandelli the option to change shape should he wish to do so.
Why they could have a good tournament...
While Prandelli will look for Italy to attack through players like Antonio Cassano and Antonio Di Natale he also has the Juventus defence to call upon - defence which won Serie A this season. Goalkeeper Gigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli all enjoyed excellent seasons in a Juve rearguard that conceded only 20 league goals. The team will rely on their midfield to control games and have Andrea Pirlo in form to do just that.
Why they could have a bad tournament...
Despite Italy controlling possession in all their games scoring goals against deep defences has proved hard work. It’s led to some critics calling them lightweight upfront and Rossi’s hasn’t helped while there have been concerns over the lack of true number 9 in the squad.