The Italian side that I saw in today's game is not one that should be under media scrutiny in my opinion. Despite all of the setbacks that this squad has endured prior to the game, the team's performance led me to believe that they are indeed for real, and that they could very well advance past this group stage. Here's why.
1) Antonio Di Natale - Need I say more? The man is unreal. He enters the game and within 10 minutes puts his side up 1-0. Very, very impressive. Granted, Spain nabbed the equalizer not 5 minutes after that, but still. Should Italy manager Cesare Prandelli decide to bring on Di Natale perhaps a little earlier in the match—maybe even start him—then this team is going to make its opponents pay.
2) Andrea Pirlo isn't finished yet—Pirlo's performance today showed flashes of his younger self, with excellent footwork and pinpoint passing leading Italy to their goal. Now I'm not saying that he was perfect today...or even that he is still in his prime, because he's not. What I am saying, however, is that Pirlo's performance was exactly what Italy needed to take a point away from the previous champions. If Andrea can string together a few performances like today, then Italy could be well on its way to advancing.
3) Gigi Buffon's not done, either—the 34-year-old keeper today showed again why he is top in the country with excellent saves against Iniesta and Ramos, as well as winning a tough 1 on 1 against Fernando Torres and rushing him to miss the chip. If Buffon plays like he did today against the Republic of Ireland, then I see a shutout, easily. Croatia will be a little bit more difficult to shut out, but Buffon showed today that he is ready for any test that's thrown at him.
4) Mario Balotelli - No, this isn't a joke. While Balotelli didn't shine at his brightest today—not scoring that 1 on 1 and instead losing out to Ramos—the young striker has the potential to be a huge contributor to Italy's goal scoring. It's true that Balotelli is a whole different can of worms and that his actions are a bit rash sometimes, but his goal-scoring form is proven. Balotelli has the ability to score some absolutely brilliant goals (like he has with City), he just has to keep his temper under control. There was nothing wrong with today's fist pounding into the ground, like the referee suggested, but if there are further actions that lead to actual damage, Balotelli will see red. The man just has to keep himself under control and use that anger to smash and grab a few goals.
5) Daniele De Rossi - My man of the match for today was definitely De Rossi. Brilliant on and off the ball, De Rossi was exactly what the Italians needed to both keep the pace and control of the game while simultaneously holding down the Spanish attack. His performance definitely warrants teams being afraid of him, especially when coming up against his excellent defensive midfield presence.
6) The Italian Defense - De Rossi, Chiellini, and Bonucci were excellent today. After already highlighting De Rossi, I'd like to take the time to point out Chiellini's defense and his excellent marking. True, Spain snagged a good goal and with 60 percent possession were on the forefront a decent amount of the time. However, Chiellini and Bonucci were both ready for any attacking situation Spain could throw at them. With no strikers, the two center backs had to handle the "tiki-taka" passing style that Spain gave them, but handled it well, only allowing 1 goal from 9 shots on target with 18 shots total.
7) Antonio Cassano - A fantastic player in general, I was certain that Cassano was going to score today and was disappointed to see that he did not. However, he is a bull that is ready to go at the defense of the side. His pace and crossing ability will see him set up and potentially score on many of the chances that are given to him. Hopefully Cassano can get on the mark and show his real ability.
8) Sebastian Giovinco - Another bright spot to the Italian attack, the minute he came on he showed pace and spacing that caught Spain a bit off guard. If he controls his passing better, he can be a super sub that will help Italy in their upcoming matches.
9) Italy's Mentality - The Azzurri showed no fear heading into a match that many doubted them for. I mean most bookies didn't even have Italy scoring a goal. Their fearlessness and confidence definitely showed and is what ultimately helped them secure a draw.
Without getting contradictory, though, forget about all of the individual performances. Forget Di Natale's goal, De Rossi's "in your pocket" defending, and even all the singled out bright spots. Realize for a second that this already knocked down and out Italy team showed exactly why they shouldn't be knocked down and out. Their performance as a whole is what secured them a point in a game that definitely could have been Italy's to take. "A whole is only as great as the sum of its parts." In this case, the individual performances came together to show that they are a team to be reckoned with.
10) Italy's Potential - With a more attacking lineup and a little bit cleaner play, Italy will almost certainly make it out of this group. I'm not understanding all the negativity with the media and Mario Balotelli and what not. For me, Italy played great today and with a proper effort against Croatia, I see Italy doing what most saw impossible: advancing.
Follow me on Twitter: @ScottStewartLFC
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