Italy vs. Ireland: 6 Reasons Azzurri Are Looking Shaky Going into Knockout Stage
Unbeaten in their group, the Italians have shown class and the fruits of experience as they navigated their way through a tricky group to almost come out on top of it and shove Spain into second place.
However, the Azzurri do have their fair share of flaws, and they could not hide them all in the Ireland match.
While they are definitely a good bet to give a stern challenge whomever they may face in the next round, fans do have reasons to be concerned about the team's chances.
Here are a few reasons why.
Uncertainty at Striker
Italy certainly has a lot of talent at the striker position, but you just never know when it will manifest itself in the form of a bulging net.
Antonio Di Natale was given a deserved start after a series of lively appearances off the bench in relief of the lackluster Mario Balotelli, and yet it was the latter who provided the spark that sealed the tie after replacing his erstwhile understudy.
Now, Cesare Prandelli has a serious problem: every game, he will be forced to gamble on which forward will be on his best and which will have to wait his turn before being thrown on late in the game.
Di Natale, with his experience and goal-poaching ability tips the scale one way, but Balotelli's immense skill and sumptuous goal balance it out. Throw in the latter's volatility, and you have a selection nightmare.
Goals Have Only Come from Set-Pieces
There is nothing wrong with using set-pieces to one's advantage and trying to score off them, but it is a tad alarming when they start to become the team's prime source of goals.
For a team that can play as beautifully as Italy, a worryingly high percentage of their goals in the tournament thus far have resulted from dead-ball situations.
In fact, their last three have.
There was Andrea Pirlo's admittedly fantastic curler against Croatia, and both Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli's strikes versus Ireland.
Sooner or later, this gravy train will stop, and Italy will have to get their goals from normal, open-play situations.
Inability to Finish Chances
With 60 percent of the ball throughout the match, Italy manufactured a staggering 17 shots on goal to show for their dominance.
Yet they left the door open to an Irish comeback by finishing off almost none of those until the waning moments of the game, when Mario Balotelli decided, enough was enough.
The Azzurri controlled play through their slick and powerful central midfielders and worked to create chances all game, but, whether it was due to having the wrong striker up top or an anomalous shooting performance, few options worked in front of goal.
If they want to progress further than they already have, the Italians need to get this issue sorted out quickly.
Cracks in the Defensive Armor
We all know that Italy are a superb defensive unit, as they always have been, and that it takes a lot to move their men of steel.
However, it is tough to recover from losing one of your best players to injury, and Cesare Prandelli will have a major headache now that Giorgio Chiellini, the organizer of the back four, has gone down with an apparent leg injury.
There are certainly nominal replacements on the bench for the towering central defender, but no one can replicate Chiellini's towering presence at the back.
Without him, Italy looked a bit more vulnerable, conceding some chances to Ireland late on and forcing Gianluigi Buffon into action at some points.
Inability to Close out Games
While Italy is undefeated so far, there is a reason why its narrow but deserved win over lowly Ireland was its first of the tournament.
The Azzurri seem to have a bit of a problem turning the screw at the ends of games and putting their opposition away when they have the chance.
Drawing against Spain is forgivable, but they did give up a lead to do so. And after another tie versus Croatia, you might have thought that the Italians would do everything possible to put this crucial final game away.
Oddly, though, Ireland were at their strongest when they should have being mercifully put to the sword, and, while they deserved the loss, this could have been closer than it ostensibly looks.
To make it through the knockout stages, Italy will need to find a way to fix this worrying problem.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!