Euro 2012: Italy vs. Ireland, Prandelli to Tactically Outwit Trappatoni
Italy enter the final round of group C in a peculiar situation. It is difficult to predict whether Cesare Prandelli is content with the Azzurri's results from their opening two matches of Euro 2012.
After a tremendous display against Spain, Italy took on an underrated Croatia side, who look to be their biggest threat to qualification. Both matches ended 1-1, and Italy took the lead both times.
Despite two credible results against tough opponents, Italy are faced with the proposition that failure to defeat Ireland will mean elimination at the group stages for the second consecutive tournament.
Despite this precarious situation, I fully expect them to dispatch an Irish side who will be low on confidence. Giovanni Trappatoni's men will be demoralised, not only due to back-to-back defeats, but the manner in which they have conceded goals.
Ireland's defence has been breached in the opening five minutes in all of the four halves of football they have played in this tournament. Italy's new tactical approach allows for a faster pace that they are traditionally associated with, precisely what is needed for this occasion.
Emanuele Giaccherini and Christian Maggio are accustomed to more advanced roles for their clubs, but have been restricted, for large parts, to more disciplined roles as wing-backs in Prandelli's 3-5-2. This should change against Ireland, especially in Maggio's case, when he matches up against a vulnerable Stephen Ward.
Trappatoni appears too stubborn to alter his tactics, even if it could benefit his side, as was the case in the Spain match. Failure to adjust their formation away from their usual 4-4-2 was especially odd against a Spain side that was not only vastly superior technically, but with Vicente Del Bosque's 4-3-3, they also possessed a numerical mismatch in midfield.
Italy's midfield is especially strong, an area of the pitch which will undoubtedly be crucial for how proceedings unfold on Monday. Andrea Pirlo, flanked by his carilleros, Thiago Motta and Claudio Marchisio, should be able to dictate possession, especially with Ireland inevitably sitting deep, with two banks of four.
When Ireland are forced to bring their wingers inside to contain Italy's midfield, Maggio and Giaccherini will look to expose Ireland in one-on-one situations with runs from deep.
Although Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli have failed to score so far, they will keep Richard Dunne and Sean St. Ledger busy enough, which will mean Italy's midfield trio will outnumber Ireland three to two. Once the ball is distributed out wide, that same midfield trio could be where Italy's goals come.
Italy could strangely benefit from their predicament; knowing a win is imperative will force Prandelli into a positive approach. Three points will likely secure second place and a trip to Kiev to face the winners of group D in the quarter-finals.
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