Time for Italy to Step-up or Ship Out
Group C: Italy Vs Ireland
Monday 18th June 2012
Stadion Miejski, Poznan
The final series of matches in Group C finds three sides still in the running for a quarter-final place, with Italy, Spain and Croatia all in the mix. Of the three, Italy know their fate is not entirely in their own hands; a 2-2 draw between Spain and Croatia will result in Italy’s elimination regardless of their result against the already eliminated Irish. The conspiracy theorists are in full flow sighting the precedent of the Denmark Vs Sweden result (also 2-2) in the final group game of the 2004 championships which say the Azzuri knocked out. However, Italy cannot afford to become distracted by such an unlikely consideration – they must build on their impressive performances in the first two group games and secure victory tonight – nothing else will do.
Italy are hopeful that Andrea Barzagli will be fit enough to start – should this be the case it is likely that Cesare Prandelli will revert to a back four and push the heretofore excellent Daniele De Rossi into his natural midfield role. If weekend media speculation is accurate then Antonio Di Natale will also get the nod to partner Cassano upfront at the expense of the so far disappointing Mario Balotelli. Di Natale proved his effectiveness with a well taken goal against Spain in the first group game and coupled with his intelligent running he would undoubtedly cause major problems for the Irish defence.
Giovanni Trapattoni has rather bizarrely stated that he will revert to the same starting XI that was brushed aside by Croatia in Ireland’s first match. This will mean the return of Kevin Doyle upfront in place of Simon Cox. It will also once again mean no starting place for any of Shane Long, Jon Walters, James McClean or Darren Gibson. The tide of opinion in Ireland is starting to turn against Il Trap – this selection will not help his cause. Despite Ireland having scored only one goal and conceding seven in two matches (resulting in them becoming the first side to be eliminated form the competition) the manager has decided that nothing needs to change. It makes you wonder.
Italy have been very impressive in the competition so far without winning a game. The draws against Spain (1-1) and Croatia (1-1) came after the Italians had taken the lead in both matches. This will be a cause of concern for Prandelli but the feeling is growing that Italy could become real contenders for the title if they can negotiate their way out of Group C. They will be hopeful of securing the win they need against what has proved to be a very disappointing Irish team. The potential inclusion of Di Natale should increase their goal threat and if De Rossi can return to midfield this should create even more opportunites for the majestic Andrea Pirlo to get forward and hurt the Irish. Pirlo has strong claims to being the player of the tournament so far and will almost certainly be too much for the Irish midfield of Whelan and Andrews to deal with. As Xavi dominated the Irish midfield when Spain met Ireland in Gdansk, so I expect Pirlo to do so tonight. If this happens, Ireland will be on the back foot from the outset. The Irish defence has already proved incapable of holding out against sustained pressure so I expect Italy to score more than once. Despite the fact that four of Italy’s last five goals at the Euros have come from set-pieces, they’re general play at these championships has been better than that and I think that they will be given much more time and space against Ireland than they have had in their first two games in Poland. This should enable them to create many more chances and if they are sharp in front of goal a comfortable victory is there to be had. There are some historical concerns for Italy – they have won just one of their last five meetings against Ireland (L2 D2) and are winless in six consecutive games in major tournaments for the first time in their history (five draws, one defeat). I do not think that either of these factors will have a bearing tonight. Italy will win and this should be good enough to see them into the quarter-finals.
Italy: [4-1-3-2] Buffon (GK) (C), Maggio, Bonucci, Barzagli, Chiellini, Marchisio, De Rossi, Giaccherini, Pirlo, Di Natale, Cassano
Ireland: [4-4-2] Given (GK), O’Shea, Dunne, St Ledger, Ward, Whelan, Andrews, Duff, McGeady, Doyle, Keane (C)
“Quite honestly, I am (surprised at Ireland’s performance). They are a strong team and we need to be wary of them. They have got a lot of national pride and they have got a great ability to fight in games.”
Cesare Prandelli – Italian Manager
“How much value do you give this team for reaching the Euros? I know how much. I am proud to come here with this team and these players.”
Giovanni Trapattoni – Irish Manager