Euro 2012 Countdown: Italy Capable of Being a Major Player at Euros
Italy have been drawn in Group C at the Euro 2012 finals in Poland/Ukraine and will open their campaign with a game against defending champions Spain on the 10th June in Gdansk.
It probably isn’t the best start as defeat could seriously put them on the back foot and hamper their chances of reaching the knockout stages, particularly as they have to negotiate two potential "banana skins" in the shape of the Republic of Ireland and Croatia.
That said, the Azzurri reached for the finals after an exceptional qualifying campaign which saw them go undefeated in the 10 games played, winning eight and drawing just two. They also found the net 20 times in qualifying but even more impressive was the fact that they only conceded twice in the same period.
During the course of 2011, they also played Spain in a "friendly," winning 2-1 thanks to a late winner courtesy of Alberto Aquilani. However, in June last year, they played Ireland in another "friendly" in Belgium where they lost 2-0. Another defeat in their latest warm-up match, this time going down 1-0 against the United States last month, further illustrates the inconsistencies of the Italian national side.
Head Coach: Cesare Prandelli
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Prandelli was formerly manager of Fiorentina for five successful years where he guided the relegation-threatened Florence club to the UEFA Cup semifinal and the top four in Serie A and a place in the Champions League.
Prandelli was appointed as head coach of the Italian national side in 2010, replacing Marcello Lippi, and by qualifying for Euro 2012 so emphatically, the Italian fans and soccer pundits are expecting big things of Prandelli's team in Poland and the Ukraine
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With a team that concedes very few goals, it is little wonder that much of Italy’s strength lies within its defense.
Several of those key defenders play for Juventus including captain and arguably one of the world's best goalkeepers, Gianluigi Buffon, centre-back Giorgio Chiellini, who can also play left-back and his central defending partner, Andrea Barzagli, who also plays for Juventus.
In midfield, Italy has plenty of experience with Roma’s Daniele de Rossi, a veteran with over 70 caps to his name and is also a player capable of finding the net.
Even more experienced is Andrea Pirlo with 82 caps and was a member of Italy’s World Cup-winning team in 2006. A deep-lying inventive midfielder with a great range of passes, Pirlo will be crucial to Italy’s Euro 2012 ambitions.
Although not always a first-choice pick, Mario Balotelli of Manchester City could find himself as a vital member of the Italian squad at the European Championships and is certainly a player that is able of making an impact as a substitute.
Top scorer throughout the qualifying campaign was AC Milan’s Antonio Cassano, who scored six times in 10 games and has a total of nine goals from 28 international matches for his country.
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Italy has won the World Cup a total of four times, the latest coming in 2006, and have been runners-up on a further three occasions. However, their success has not always been so good in the European Championship, winning only once back in 1968.
Their best performance in recent times was in 2000 when they were beaten by France in the final but their World Cup efforts prove the Italians have a winning pedigree when it comes to major soccer tournaments and they will be hoping to end that 44-year wait for European glory in June.
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Prandelli has Italy playing an all-around game but with a bias towards keeping clean sheets as opposed to offensive flair and scoring goals. This policy will certainly be evident against the higher-rated countries, such as Spain in their tournament opener. Against the less dangerous teams, the team is flexible enough to adapt a more attacking style when required.
They have always been a strong tackling team who rarely give anything away to their opponents and know that if they can stay in the game, then they will always be capable of beating anyone on their day.
Euro 2012 Prospects
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Much will depend on which Italy turns up, but a committed Italian team usually means that they will be a match for anyone. However, as the results against the USA and Ireland have proved, they can be vulnerable if not showing enough respect to opponents.
Italy should certainly qualify for the knockout stage in second place behind Spain in Group C.
Whether they are capable enough of winning the tournament outright remains to be seen but they will certainly be a match for any opponent come the knockout stage.
The latest Euro 2012 betting has handed Italy odds of 14/1 (+1,400) which is fairly generous for team which still boasts members of the squad that won the World Cup in 2006.
If defense win championships, then Italy should certainly give backers a run for their money!