Malta vs. Italy: 5 Things We Learned from the World Cup Qualifier
Why always you?
The 2014 World Cup in Brazil is inching closer as Mario Balotelli's brace against Malta gave Italy another three points as they lead Group 2 in the standings.
The 2-0 win over minnows Malta could actually be seen as a negative, as the small island nation is more used to conceding around a dozen goals per match against top-level European opposition.
Anyway, let's move on to five things we learned from this World Cup Qualifier!
Italy Doesn't Take European Minnows Seriously
Historically, Italy has not done well against the minnows of Europe.
A few years ago, they suffered a near scare against lowly Faroe Islands, as the Azzurri only managed a 1-0 win on their home turf, which was about 10 meters away from a cow pasture.
This was a completely different Italian side compared to the energetic one we saw in Switzerland when they faced Brazil in a friendly. Against Malta, they were sloppy in the first half, losing possession in an unorthodox manner and actually allowing the home side to come close to equalizing.
Mario Balotelli Is Maturing
Mario Balotelli has managed 10 goals in eight appearances in all competitions this year.
In the last two matches with the Italian national team, Super Mario has rewarded coach Cesare Prandelli's faith by netting three strikes.
Seems the days of his late-night debauchery and high-speed driving are taking a backseat to a new and improved Mario Balotelli.
Italy Will Win Group 2
Currently three points ahead of Bulgaria despite having played a game less, Italy should have no problems snapping up Group 2 on their way to the World Cup.
Prandelli seems to have found comfort in using a 4-3-3 formation, which utilizes his depth up front. This formation would work a lot better with Giorgio Chiellini back from injury, as Leonardo Bonucci isn't at his best when playing a four-man defensive scheme.
Emanuele Giaccherini Is a Bizarre Inclusion
Every coach has his pallino, a player they love to bring along who is heavily scrutinized by the media and fans.
Marcello Lippi's pallino was Cristian Zaccardo, and probably Simone Pepe in his unsuccessful second stint at the helm.
Don't get me wrong, Emanuele Giaccherini has good work-rate and does his role fairly well, but he just doesn't have enough quality to warrant a mention on the Italian national team.
It's fine to have a player like him on the bench, but as a starter it makes little sense. Prandelli could've gone with a more direct player with better one-on-one capacity against Malta, such as Alessio Cerci.
The Italian National Team Is a Force to Be Reckoned With
Now that the cliche title is out of the way, let's raise our glass to the efforts by Cesare Prandelli in turning this Azzurri team into one of the most aesthetically pleasing to watch in the world.
The coach was brave when he called up players who were previously snubbed by coaches due to their disciplinary track record. However, Prandelli trusted natural maturation over rumors, and he made Mario Balotelli a key catalyst in his starting eleven.