Italy vs. Nigeria: 5 Things We Learned
The 2-2 draw tells the story of a high-octane match that had the drama and electrifying nature of a game with implications beyond that of a meaningless friendly.
For plenty of players on the field, this was a prime opportunity to showcase their skills on a world stage and impress their manager in hopes of getting a call-up to the biggest sporting event.
Following the match, Cesare Prandelli told Sport Mediaset the following (link is in Italian):
The result penalizes us, but I wish we always played this way. We went there to play football and the negative result was highlighted by the goal we conceded from our own possession mix-up. I thought Rossi and Balotelli did well together.
Without further ado, here are five things we learned from this international friendly between the Azzurri and the Super Eagles.
Mario Balotelli Was Disappointing
Even though Super Mario had a few neat exchanges with strike partner Giuseppe Rossi, he was ultimately disappointing.
Balotelli squandered a handful of golden opportunities, especially on his one-vs.-one chance against the Nigerian goalkeeper.
There were a few positive notes to be said about the polarizing hitman. He remained calm despite being aggressively fouled on multiple occasions. Also, he ran hard for his team, which is a trait that Prandelli will undoubtedly remember when rating his strikers even when they fail to hit the back of the net.
Nigeria Will Be a Threat to Any Nation
The Nigerian national team was impressive against Italy, and they'll be a threat to any side worldwide once the World Cup commences.
The Super Eagles have a great mix of dynamic youth and veteran leadership, with Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel manning the ship in the center of the park.
Their goalkeeper, Vincent Enyeama, has been excellent at Lille this season, emerging as one of the finest shot-stoppers in all of Africa.
In the attack, the electrifying trident of Victor Moses, Ahmed Musa and Emmanuel Emenike will be a handful for the stoutest of defensive units.
All in all, the Africans could go quite far in the 2014 World Cup.
Fringe Players Make Their Case
As stated in the introductory slide, this friendly pitted two nations together who will go to the World Cup, so it's natural that the coach is going to bring along plenty of fringe players dying to impress.
Italy fielded a mostly reserve team lineup except for a few players, with most of the usual suspects on the bench from the first minute.
Left-back Manuel Pasqual had a positive outing from his full-back position. The 31-year-old has impressed with Fiorentina, but he has failed to make a name for himself of the national team, with only three caps to his name.
Midfielder Marco Parolo looked a bit out of his element at times. He had only previously played four minutes total in an Azzurri shirt.
It'll be interesting to see if the pair of defenders who started against Nigeria, Andrea Ranocchia and Angelo Ogbonna, will see more opportunity in Cesare Prandelli's starting XI.
Cesare Prandelli Favoring the Four-Man Defense
After following the Juventus-esque 3-5-2 formation for a while, it seems that Italian national team coach Cesare Prandelli has adopted a more traditional four-man defense going forward.
The particular setup against Nigeria pointed towards a 4-4-2, with Antonio Candreva and Emanuele Giaccherini supplying the width from the midfield while Mario Balotelli and Giuseppe Rossi worked up front to create chances.
The only question with this formation will be at the back, as it doesn't look like Prandelli has truly found his best defensive unit.
The left-back position is still up for grabs, with Mattia De Sciglio, Federico Balzaretti, Domenico Criscito and even Manuel Pasqual all battling for it. On the opposite flank, Christian Maggio will continue to push Ignazio Abate.
No matter whom Prandelli ultimately goes with, the bizarre certainty will be that for the first time history, the Italian attack will be a lot better than the usual water-tight back line.
Giuseppe Rossi Will Be Italy's Real X-Factor
Giuseppe Rossi's sumptuous finish in the first half gave Italy a temporary 1-0 lead over Nigeria, and he was the true difference-maker up front for the Azzurri.
Rossi has developed one of the fiercest left-footed finishes in Europe, and his exchanges with Balotelli were the perfect preview of things to come once the World Cup rears its beautiful head in Brazil.
It would be hard not to imagine the American-born striker pairing up with anyone else but Mario Balotelli in the most important matches. The two both have world-class technique and the ability to create the unexpected, a quality that any opposing defense should fear.