Azzurri deal with injuries, changes in line-up and tactical re-shuffle.
Despite all the setbacks prior to kick-off in their opening World Cup game against England in Manaus on Saturday night, Cesare Prandelli and Italy found a way to prevail and get their campaign off to a winning start.
Having lost Riccardo Montolivo in the build-up to the tournament, Milan team-mate Mattia De Sciglio was next to be struck with injury while inspirational captain and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon caused a degree of panic with his withdrawal just hours before kick-off.
All that resulted in a tactical re-shuffle of sort for Prandelli, who moved Giorgio Chiellini to left-back, with Gabriel Paletta coming into the heart of the defence while Salvatore Sirigu was given the unenviable task of filling the gloves of Italy’s most capped player.
Coupled with an attacking England line-up that was full of pace, movement and trickery, the optimism prior to the opening game slowly began to dissipate, yet the Azzurri, just as they have done on so many previous occasions, responded to adversity and came through with all three points.
Much of the focus prior to the game was on how to stop Andrea Pirlo, and while England opted against man-marking him out of the game, even their best efforts of closing him down quickly were ineffective as the midfield maestro found himself time and space with deft touches and his traditional casual movement between the lines.
Nevertheless, Pirlo’s performance shouldn’t receive all the credit, as Daniele De Rossi, Marco Verratti, Claudio Marchisio and Antonio Candreva all played key roles, with the Lazio man in particular being singled out for praise after a tireless effort as well as producing a bit of quality in the final third for Mario Balotelli’s winning goal.
The Milan striker was perhaps slightly isolated over the course of the game, but his telling contribution should give him the confidence he needs moving forward having now gotten off the mark in the tournament.
Elsewhere, despite his inexperience at this level, Matteo Darmian was impressive in just his second cap at right back, and with De Sciglio expected to return against Costa Rica, Prandelli will have two young, pacey full backs at his disposal whilst also being able to deploy Chiellini back in the centre.
As for the coach himself, his game management was key in retaining possession throughout and closing the game out. Having experienced these conditions in the Confederations Cup last year coupled with their preparations including the ‘Casetta Manaus’ in Italy’s training camp, the Azzurri’s fitness levels were evident when helping their younger counterparts with cramp in the latter stages of the encounter.
After the scare with the draw against Luxembourg a fortnight ago, Italy proved again that when it really matters they can produce. While it was a highly entertaining opening game in which England can take plenty of positives, the Azzurri ensured that they took command in what will continue to be a difficult group to advance from, but Prandelli gets full marks and will be boosted by the return of his injured stars next time out.
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