Seeking redemption

Italy was impressive in the qualifiers, conceding only two goals and importantly scored plenty of goals in the 10 matches. The ‘new Italy' delighted fans with attractive, attacking football interspersed with skilful passing. However, sterner test awaits the team in EURO 2012. Over to M. R. Praveen Chandran.

In EURO 2012 Italy will seek to raise itself from the smirches of the betting scandal that rocked the prestigious Serie A. Coach Cesare Prandelli and his bunch of young Turks will have a huge responsibility on their shoulders to erase the spectre of betting, coming after a disastrous campaign in the World Cup where Italy, as defending champion, made a first round exit without registering a single victory. It was unfathomable to its legion of fans and it cost Marcelo Lippi his job as coach.

Lippi's successor Prandelli made sweeping changes to the team, opting for youngsters and the team delivered in the Euro qualifiers as Italy went through without losing a single game. Prandelli infused a new style, blending aggression with the traditional defensive game of the Italians.

Italy was impressive in the qualifiers, conceding only two goals and importantly scored plenty of goals in the 10 matches. The high point of the campaign was a 5-0 thrashing of Faroe Islands. The ‘new Italy' delighted fans with attractive, attacking football interspersed with skilful passing in the qualifiers.

But sterner test awaits Italy in EURO 2012 where they are in one of the toughest groups along with defending champion Spain, Croatia and Ireland. Though coach Prandelli has tried to shed Italy's wonted defensive style of play, defence continues to be the team's strength. The experienced Giorgio Chiellini is a pillar of strength in defence. He has recovered from the thigh strain he suffered during Juventus' final league game and will be fit for Italy's opening match against Spain. With Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Christian Maggio, Federico Balzaretti, Angelo Ogbonna and Ignazio Abate it is an embarrassment of riches for coach Parndelli and he will not miss the services of Domenico Criscito, who was omitted for being implicated in the betting scandal. With veteran Gianluigi Buffon to count on under the bar, Italy's defence remains very stable.

However, it will be a test of character for Italy's volatile and unpredictable frontline which is also inexperienced. Prandelli will be banking on Antonio Cassano of AC Milan to shoulder the responsibility of scoring. The striker was sidelined for a few months due to a heart ailment and has now recovered. In Cassano's absence, Italy failed to score in the friendlies against Uruguay and USA to whom it lost for the first time ever. Antonio di Natale is another experienced striker but apart from these two Italy doesn't have experience upfront. Mario Balotelli, who was in splendid form for Manchester City this season, scoring 17 goals for the Premier League champion, is relatively inexperienced at the international level.

The midfield, anchored by Daniele de Rossi and Andrea Pirlo, is resourceful but lacks the creativity of the Spaniards and the ingenuity of the Germans. Prandelli favours the diamond setup of central midfielders who will be relied upon to hold possession and absorb pressure and then launch counter-attacks with slick passing. The coach will rely on his key man Andrea Pirlo to don the role of a playmaker.

Without Pirlo's set-piece skill and pin-point passing, the Italian attack quite simply grinds to a halt. Pirlo is called l'architetto (the architect) by the Italian press and has been in good form this season and led the Serie A in assists. His skills with short and long balls, especially the free kick will come in handy for the team in EURO 2012.

The die-hard Italian fans expect their team to qualify for the quarterfinals where the likely opponents will be France or England. To progress beyond quarterfinals will be a huge challenge for this young team.

THE TEAM

Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon, Salvatore Sirigu, Morgan de Sanctis.

Defenders: Christian Maggio, Giorgio Chiellini, Angelo Ogbonna, Federico Balzaretti, Ignazio Abate, Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci.

Midfielders: Thiago Motta, Claudio Marchisio, Emanuele Giaccherini, Daniele de Rossi, Riccardo Montolivo, Andrea Pirlo, Alessandro Diamanti, Antonio Nocerino.

Forwards: Mario Balotelli, Antonio Cassano, Antonio di Natale, Fabio Borini, Sebastian Giovinco.