Euro 2012: Rating Every Member of the Italy Squad in the Group Stages
Italy has qualified for the quarterfinals in a European championships for the second straight time. Four years ago in Vienna, the Italians lost 4-2 on penalties to the eventual champions, Spain. This year, a date with the English and an opportunity to get one step closer to their first European title since 1968 awaits on Sunday in Kiev.
The Azzurri came through group C on the virtue of two, one goal draws with Spain and Croatia and a 2-0 hard fought victory over Ireland. Cesare Prandelli employed both the 3-5-2 and 4-3-1-2 formations in group play, using 18 of his 20 outfield players in the process (only Angelo Ogbonna and Fabio Borini haven't seen action).
Here are my grades for each player that's participated in Italy's Euro 2012 campaign thus far:
Gianluigi Buffon (GK) - A
Buffon has been the stable force in between the posts that the squad so desperately missed at the 2010 World Cup.
With a stalwart defense in front of him, the Italy captain hasn't faced a barrage of shots and has had no problems controlling shots from distance. He can't be blamed for the goals allowed—any keeper would have been hard pressed to stop Cesc Fabregas or Mario Mandzukic from scoring in those situations.
Federico Balzaretti (D) - B-
Balzaretti was slotted into the left back role when Italy went four at the back against Ireland.
He played the full 90 minutes and was very active on the defensive end as well as getting up the flanks to provide extra offensive support to Italy's attack. Whoscored.com recorded 59 touches and a pass accuracy of 90 percent for the Palermo defender.
However, he did pick up a yellow card in the first half for arm tackling Aiden McGeady after being caught out. Despite his solid performance, Balzaretti may once again find himself on the bench should Cesare Prandelli revert to the 3-5-2, a likely scenario now that Giorgio Chiellini has been ruled out of the quarterfinal with a hamstring injury.
Ignazio Abate (D) - B+
Abate also got his first start and first appearance in the European championships in the game against Ireland.
Though he didn't fire off any shots, Abate was very aggressive, winning the ball from tackles and spreading the field from his position at right back.
Andrea Barzagli (D) - B+
Barzagli returned from injury to play in his first action of the tournament as well.
He was joined by Chiellini, as he sometimes was at Juventus, in the center of Italy's back line. Barzagli calmly dealt with the miscommunication from the opening kick which almost resulted in a major embarrassment. Barzagli's positioning was spot on as he always seemed to have his large frame between Irish attackers and the ball and he won every aerial challenge he was involved in.
Giorgio Chiellini (D) - B
Chiellini is the spiritual heart of the Italian squad.
He, like many defenders of a great Italian heritage, plays for the shirt with a unbridled passion. I thought he played superbly against Spain, less so against Croatia where losing his marker led to the equalizing goal.
Against Ireland, Chiellini was back in his "natural" role as a central defender and was effective dealing with aerial threats before going off with the hamstring injury that may end his Euro campaign.
Leonardo Bonucci (D) - B
The Juventus defender played on the right side of Italy's three-man defense against Spain and Croatia.
Versus Ireland, Bonucci came on when Chiellini went down with injury, slotting into the central role with his club partner Barzagli. You have to appreciate his tenacity and given the difficulty of some of the match ups, he's done well in his first action at an international tournament.
Antonio Nocerino (D) - Incomplete
It'd be unfair to grade his performance as he entered the Spain match in the 90th minute for Thiago Motta
Daniele De Rossi (D/MF) - A
"Il Capitano Futuro" has been, along with Pirlo, the Azzurri's best player.
He could have easily claimed man of the match honors in the opening fixture against Spain.
De Rossi was assigned the libero spot in the three-man line and played it to near perfection. Against Croatia, De Rossi put in another stellar performance. In Prandelli's 4-3-1-2 formation against Ireland, De Rossi played in the midfield just in front to the back four—something he's more accustomed to—and was able to influence more of the Italian possession game going forward.
Christian Maggio (D/MF) - C-
Maggio has not been nearly as effective for his country as he was in 2011-12 for his club, Napoli.
He does well when he can take on defenders on the wings and overlap with midfielders or forwards.
The Azzurri build mainly from the middle through Pirlo, so Maggio's role is vastly diminished. He lost possession deep in his own half a number of times against Spain and hasn't looked comfortable in Prandelli's system at all.
Andrea Pirlo (MF) - A
It's hard to quantify how much Pirlo means to the squad and how large is influence is on this team.
For better or for worse, Pirlo drives the Italian attack from his deep playmaking position. With the ball at his feet, Pirlo is capable of exposing defenses with a long ball over the top or by maneuvering through tight spaces. Coming off one of his finer seasons in Serie A with Juventus, it's clear that at the ripe old age of 33, the maestro can still play on a world-class level.
Claudio Marchisio (MF) - B+
You've got to like what you're seeing from the young Juventus star.
He's played with a lot of confidence in Italy's crowded central midfield. The only thing lacking is the final strike which deserted him against both Spain and Croatia. Marchisio had golden opportunities to put chances away there.
With his brilliant individual skills I really believe he could star for this team yet in this tournament and for many years to come.
Thiago Motta (MF) - B
Motta has been just the man for the job in front of Andrea Pirlo to ensure the regista has space to operate Italy's attack. He, along with Marchisio, never allowed Spain to dominate possession and find their rhythm until late in the second half.
The same could be said for the Croatia match, where Luka Modric was held in check by Motta for a good portion of the evening. And when needed Motta can create opportunities up front.
Riccardo Montolivo (MF) - D
His only 27 minutes of the tournament came in replacement of Thiago Motta in the second half of the Croatia match. He picked up a yellow card and had no impact in the Italian midfield.
Montolivo's struggles to find his place with the national team continue and Prandelli's patience to see him through this is declining as evidenced from his limited playing time.
Emanuele Giaccherini (MF) - C
Giaccherini, like Maggio, hasn't be utilized in the same way as he is with his club side. And while he acquitted himself well in the surprise inclusions in the starting XI for the first two games, his true impact has been minimal.
Alessandro Diamanti (MF) - B
Diamanti was inserted for Antonio Cassano in the 63rd minute versus Ireland. He was active in finding the ball, but a bit too quick to shoot from distance. He did, however, find Mario Balotelli in the box for the second goal against Ireland late in the proceedings.
Antonio Cassano (F) - A
Cassano has been Italy's best forward.
The dynamic play which showed in brilliant spurts throughout the Milan man's career has returned with consistency for the national side.
Cassano scored against Ireland and was always working to find opportunities for his teammates. Whether he's joined by Balotelli or Antonio Di Natale up front, Cassano has been a creative revelation for Prandelli's team.
Mario Balotelli (F) - B-
The good news is that he hasn't done anything outlandishly stupid yet to hurt the team. He even scored a spectacular goal, striking a volley with his back to goal, after coming off the bench against Ireland.
The bad news is he could have played better and missed chances in the earlier games. Against Spain, he was in alone on goal but dallied about too long, allowing Sergio Ramos to tackle it away from him.
I thought he was better, played with a cooler head against Croatia, holding up play nicely and drawing fouls.
Balotelli is immensely talented and could really be a difference maker for this team. Of course, he's also widely unpredictable and could just as easily put the team down a man. He's got first hand knowledge of the English game now, and might line up against no less than three of his Manchester City club mates against England.
Antonio Di Natale (F) - B
Udinese's talisman provided Italy with a little of that magic against the world champions.
Rewarding his coach for putting him after the break, Di Natale made no mistake when he slotted the opening goal past Iker Casillas. While he didn't look nearly as threatening against Croatia (again as a sub) or starting versus Ireland, Di Natale is always a threat to seize on even the smallest of openings.
Sebastian Giovinco (F) - C
I'm sure I'm not the only one who wants to see more of the "Atomic Ant" than the 32 minutes he's played off the bench thus far. He was most effective coming on for Cassano versus Spain and feeding Di Natale with a well weighted pass that the striker directed volleyed just wide off the post.
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