Oh dear, now I'm quite far behind. These might be a bit short. I present Italy. By the way, I like Italy so expect some bias. Because I took so long in getting this done, the main soccer page went ahead and beat me to the preview. For the most part, I agree with the article. But don't worry, this won't just be a rehash of it. I will also be adding a new section devoted to rivals now that the small teams are done for the most part.
Defenders: Ignazio Abate (AC Milan), Federico Balzaretti (Palermo), Andrea Barzagli (Juventus), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Christian Maggio (Napoli) and Angelo Ogbonna (Torino).
Midfielders: Daniele De Rossi (Roma), Alessandro Diamanti (Bologna), Emanuele Giaccherini (Juventus), Claudio Marchisio (Juventus), Riccardo Montolivo (Fiorentina / AC Milan), Thiago Motta (Paris Saint-Germain), Antonio Nocerino (AC Milan) and Andrea Pirlo (Juventus).
(You can click on the nation to see the previous posts)
With 4 triumphs, Italy have won the most World Cups in Europe and are second in the world only to Brazil. Half of their success came in the early days of the tournament, back in 1934 when they hosted and 1938, when France hosted. Those were the second and third World Cups respectively. Italy also won in 1982 and 2006. They have one Euro to their name, winning the only time in 1968.
Italy came into the 2006 World Cup downtrodden after Calciopolli. However, they pulled themselves together to go the tournament undefeated, drawing twice, once in the group stage against the US, and once in the Final against France, which they then won on PK's. The Italians triumphed after letting in just 2 goals, one in each of the previously mentioned draws. The 2010 World Cup saw the Italians come in as big favorites. They left as big flops. They drew their first 2 games against Paraguay and New Zealand after some very poor play. Against Slovakia, they only needed a draw, but fell 3-2. Their squad that was almost an exact replica of the 2006 team that triumphed was deemed to old. I disagree. Italy were, in fact, a strong side. However, they were totally complacent 90% of the time. They just did not care. With the threat of getting eliminated hovering over them, the Italians came to life in their final 20 minutes. Too little too late.
To qualify for the Euros, Italy had to play against Estonia, Northern Ireland, Serbia, Slovenia, and the Faroe Islands. They were perfect at home and went undefeated overall. They also let in only 2 goals. In comparison, Spain let in 3 times that. However, Italy has been not so great since then. They famously lost to the US in Genoa 1-0 (DEMPSEY!) and then were steamrolled by Russia, 0-3.
Expect Italy to play in either a 4-3-1-2 or a 3-5-3. They have been playing with a back 4, but Napoli has shown that a back 3 can cope defensively and attack brilliantly. The team may follow Napoli's example as they have many pieces that are better suited for that line-up. Italy's manager is Cesare Prandelli who stepped in after Marcello Lippi, the manager of 2006, stepped down.
Traditionally, Italians are known for playing defense and for the contropiede, or counter attack. It's a mistake to compare the desperate defending of Chelsea, this year's winner of the Champion's League, with the Azzuri as the best Italian teams have always had a certain attacking flair about them. Rather, they are extremely strong defensively and expose their opponents undermanned defense. Chelsea hung on to dear life and hoped to get a lucky goal against Barcelona and Bayern Munich to great affect. Italians also have a history of starting slow. They perform better at the end of competitions than the start. Finally, Italy have a major weakness in Penalty Kick Shootouts. They have won two PK shootouts out of 6.
Zidane Headbutt, anyone? Of course, it's a bit more expansive than that. This one even has it's own Wikipedia page.
Just about everyone is a rival of Germany. Italy got one for a series of brilliant high scoring matches. I'm talking about some finals that were close but finished with at least 4 goals (one had 7).
Players of Mention
I like Buffon. He was my idol for goalkeeping when I was just tinkering in net minding. He is quite simply the best non-Casillas goalkeeper in the world. At least, he was back in 2006. Now, he has gotten older and lost a little bit of that shine. Not really because he isn't as good, but because he has now started to succumb to a few injuries. He effectively missed the embarrassment that was the 2010 World Cup because he got injured in the first half of the first game. When Italy's Captain is at his best, expect nothing to get through him. In the 2006 World Cup, he let in only 2 goals to help the team to the title: one in the final against France, the other being a handball in the group draw against the US. Buffon has been with Juventus for over a decade. Since 2001, he has accumulated 325 caps. With the national team, he has gotten 114 caps. Might I add that he is just 34 years old, young enough to be playing as the starting keeper for over another 4 years. Of note, Buffon was sold to Juve from Parma for an estimated £32.6 Million back in 2001. That's more than Hazard's transfer after over a decade of super inflation. He also has some extreme loyalty, sticking with The Old Lady despite getting relegated after the match fixing scandal, widely known as Calciopoli. Might I add that he won a World Cup the summer after being relegated?
I don't think he's important. In fact, I think he might be a liability. However, he was highlighted as an important player on the main soccer page, so, here's the link. He plays for Napoli. However, if Italy go with a back 4, he will be playing out of position as a right back, rather than as a right wingback used with a back 3 (wide midfielders who pull back to create a 5 man defense while being attacked and create along the sides while attacking.). He looked dreadful in the loss to Russia despite being vital to Napoli's now famous 3-5-3.
Once again, see the preview. Expect this man from Juventus to really dictate how Italy attack. He is a veteran from the 2006 World Cup squad.
There are a lot of things that people call Balotelli. Most of them are not very nice. Balotelli is certainly a talented footballer. That has never been the problem. The issue is that he is also a talented problem maker. He throws darts at people. He drives into the walls of women's prisons. He sets his house on fire after shooting fireworks out of his bathroom. He interrupts the interviews of coaches of leagues he does not play for. People burn effigies of him. He gets way too many cards (2 reds in each of the 4 seasons at Man City). He scores 17 goals, 3rd best for a ridiculously stacked team. And, after all that, he asks "Why Me?"
Of note, Balotelli threatened to kill anyone who acts in a racist manner to him in Poland or Ukraine after it was found that there may be a possible threat from White Supremacists and Neo-Nazis, especially to people of color. Oh dear.
Euro 2012 Chances
Italy have gotten somewhat fortunate. Though they have Spain, who are ranked number one in the world and are the current champions, they still have a shot at getting out of the group. Italy demonstrated that they can, in fact, defend well, letting in only 2 goals on the road to go undefeated in all and perfect at home. Blocking Ireland and Croatia should almost certainly be good enough to get second in the group. Italy then would find themselves in front of one of the top two from group D. That means either France, Sweden, England or Ukraine. Ukraine would be a gift. France and Sweden are tricky, but doable for this Italian side. England would also be fairly easy as they have been devastated by a series of injuries. After that, Italy would almost be guaranteed a collision course with one of the big teams from group B, the group of Death.
Matches to Watch
Italy vs. Spain
This will likely set the tone of both teams performances this summer. In theory, a defensive Italy should be able to block Spain. However, it will be unlikely that Italy get out of the group if they are totally crushed.
I think Italy has the potential to be a championship side. They have the talent for it. However, I believe that they are lacking something and will be a somewhat weak side. However, I think they'll be able to go past Ireland and Croatia, along with France/England/Sweden. But that's the end of the line. Semifinals.
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