Italy vs. Armenia: 6 Things We Learned
A disappointing draw against poor opposition, or a result that secured a top-of-the-table finish. Depending on how you view the glass' contents, Cesare Prandelli's Italy should either be downbeat or delighted following their 2-2 draw with Armenia at the Stadio San Paolo in Naples.
Qualification was already assured, so it's hard to be overly critical of the Italians' performance. They shouldn't have conceded so easily to a small team, but the preparation and tactical exercise had more value than merely securing a win with their strongest XI would have.
Only Daniel Osvaldo and Riccardo Montolivo started both the Denmark and Armenia games, an obvious sign that the coach already had one eye on the finals next summer when he'll need to be totally confident in his entire squad.
So what might he have learned?
Italy Will Be Among the Favourites in Brazil
Since that appalling World Cup in 2010, Italy have been building. Prandelli has created a balanced and organised side that's extremely difficult to beat. The Azzurri have now gone unbeaten in 40 qualification games, an impressive record and one that should worry their opponents.
It's true that Italy went behind twice to Armenia when they really should be doing better. But the Italians traditionally struggle to impress—possibly from a lack of enthusiasm—against smaller sides or in games that don't really matter.
Italy Need to Stop Making Stupid Mistakes
They're top of the group and are almost impossible to beat, but Italy can't afford to be so error-prone and complacent in Brazil.
The Azzurri having been gifting goals, and though they've been spared by their properly-functioning forwards, the drops in concentration are a real worry for a squad with no obvious physical or technical deficiencies.
At club level, it would be unthinkable for most of these players to concede the way they regularly do with Italy. There still seems to be a crucial part of the puzzle missing when it comes to concentrating in an Italy shirt.
Prandelli must now work hard to ensure that when Italy arrive in South America next summer, they're fully prepared, mentally fit and firing on all cylinders.
Federico Marchetti Is Not Good Enough for Italy
OK, so this isn't exactly anything new we've learned from the Armenia game, but it's true: Federico Marchetti is not up to Italy's standards.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan had a fine game for Armenia, but an Azzurri goalkeeper should not be gifting corners like the one Marchetti gave away right before the visitors scored their second goal. If it were an isolated mistake, he could be forgiven, but the man from Bassano del Grappa never looks comfortable between the sticks for the national side.
The Lazio keeper is highly rated in Italy, but every time he features for Prandelli, he seems to have a shocker. In Brazil, Gigi Buffon will be the obvious No. 1. For Italy's sake, let's hope that he stays fit.
Mario Balotelli Is Key
He's one of the world's best players, so Mario Balotelli would be an important part of any national side. But he's absolutely vital for Prandelli.
The Milan forward is consistently the best player in an Italy shirt, and his never-say-die attitude can make the difference in clutch games next summer.
Against Armenia, he never gave up looking for the winning goal. On another night, he'd have scored it. He had several great chances saved and one strike disallowed for an earlier foul.
Pirlo's pass was brilliant for Balotelli's equaliser, but no more so than the striker's control and composure in finishing the job. He looked peerless, and he's still working back from injury. A fit Balo will take Brazil by storm.
Lorenzo Insigne Might Also Be Key Very Soon
The game against Armenia was something of a breakout performance in an Italy shirt for Lorenzo Insigne. His talent, of course, is a matter of public record. Having come to the attention of the world while on loan at Pescara, the Naples native is now regularly impressing in a Napoli shirt.
He felt right at home at the San Paolo for Italy. On the night, he was as impressive as Balotelli and Italy's other stand-out player, Andrea Pirlo. Praise doesn't come much higher than that.
He missed a great chance—set up by Balotelli—when he misfired his shot right at Roman Berezovsky in the Armenia goal. However, his overall movement, clever distribution and link-up play were excellent, as were his frequent cut-ins from out wide.
The way he set up Alessandro Florenzi's goal was also a joy to watch. He played with the defence before chipping the ball into the box for the on-rushing Roma man to beat the keeper. It was the sort of intelligent, joyful passing that Pirlo would be proud of.
The Neapolitan has a great career ahead of him. If he can develop into a consistent goal threat in Serie A this term, he could easily be one of the most exciting players at the World Cup in 2014.
Prandelli Will Be Encouraged by His Options
Alessandro Florenzi continues to develop into a fine footballer. He might not be of the class of Balotelli or Insigne, but the Roma player is versatile, hard-working and not short on skill.
As he so often does for the Giallorossi, Florenzi capitalised on the great work of the creative forward—this time Insigne rather than Francesco Totti—to head home Italy's first. But he contributed much more to the game than just the goal, and his tireless efforts won't have gone unnoticed by his coach.
Will he be a guaranteed starter in Brazil?
This reporter thinks he merits a place in the starting XI, but at the very least, he's a fantastic option to have on the bench. And Prandelli will need as many of those as possible if Italy are to go all the way.