Italy vs. Ireland: 6 Things We Learned
His team lost a key player to injury and it's another game without a win, but Cesare Prandelli still has positives to take from Italy's meeting with Ireland in London on Saturday.
Giuseppe Rossi looked fit and several players such as Marco Verratti and Ciro Immobile looked in fine form ahead of the World Cup.
The game was a chance for the Azzurri to try out some different players and give Rossi a chance to prove his fitness ahead of Brazil. For Ireland, it was an opportunity for new manager Martin O'Neill to measure his men against world-class opposition.
Italy are now without a win since they beat Czech Republic in a World Cup qualifier back in September 2013, but the 0-0 result won't worry them too much.
Friendlies Are Always Risky
Cesare Prandelli has tended to use friendlies to great effect. Italy's results in the ties have been poor, but the manager has generally been more interested in providing a proving ground for untested players and formations than working to win.
They remain, however, something of a gamble, and Saturday's tie against Ireland wasn't one that paid off. Fringe players got game time, but the Azzurri lost Riccardo Montolivo to a broken tibia. The Milan midfielder has been a favourite of Prandelli's since their time together at Fiorentina and will be a big loss in Brazil.
Giuseppe Rossi Didn't Look 100%, but He's Worth the Risk
After setting Serie A alight before Christmas, Giuseppe Rossi missed most of the second half of Fiorentina's season with yet another serious knee injury, and he has been in a race against time to prove to Prandelli that he's fit enough to make the squad for the World Cup.
He played for 70 minutes at a reasonable level against Ireland and looked comfortable enough. With two weeks still to go before the Azzurri's opening game, there's every reason to believe he can improve in that time.
The problem is that bringing the Viola forward will almost certainly mean leaving another young goalscorer at home. Roma's Mattia Destro has been in fine form this year after recovering from injury issues of his own.
Prandelli is allowed to bring a back-up, 24th addition to his 23-man squad and make the call just days before the first kick-off. It might be the safest bet.
Marco Verratti Is One to Watch in Brazil
Most eyes will be on the more illustrious pairing of Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi when Italy first line out in Brazil, but Paris Saint-Germain's Marco Verratti looks set to star at this summer's World Cup.
He was excellent for the Azzurri against Ireland, showing off his often overlooked defensive strength. The PSG midfielder is known for his technical ability and excellent passing, but he showed at Craven Cottage that he's capable of pulling off some pretty incisive tackles, too.
Both Sides Have Changed a Lot Since Poznan
When Italy played Ireland in the final Group C game at Euro 2012, the boys in green were already beaten, both physically and mentally, by a tough tournament. They'd qualified for the event, but they weren't equipped to deal with it.
It was the end of a cycle for Ireland, in much the same way as the 2010 World Cup had been for Italy. By 2012, Cesare Prandelli was well on the way to rebuilding the Azzurri and they acquitted themselves well, making it all the way to the final.
The rebuilding for Ireland begins now.
Martin O'Neill would love to have even a handful of the talented players at Prandelli's disposal, but he'll take heart in the way that the former Fiorentina manager has built a unit with a strong team ethic that's about more than just star names.
At Craven Cottage, he was given plenty of signs from his players that, under the right guidance, they can achieve something. They might not be world class, but against Italy they worked well as a unit and could have scored on a couple of occasions, such as when Stephen Quinn's late header unluckily smashed off the bar. On another night, that would have gone in and Ireland would have gone home with an important scalp and a big reward for their collective efforts.
Martin O'Neill Has Already Had a Positive Impact on Ireland
Ireland shouldn't get too carried away with a draw against a mainly second-string Italy that was focused more on preparing for Brazil than winning a friendly, but the result is still a very positive one for the boys in green.
We defended strongly, played some really great stuff and could have scored a number of goals.
There is genuine disappointment that we didn't win [his debut game in charge against Turkey last week]. There was a little nervousness at the start, some new blood coming in, and it was just a matter of settling down.
[Against Italy] we had a spell in the second half where we kept it forever and made some great chances—we were magnificent.
We were also able to manoeuvre in tight spaces. Aiden McGeady has been sensational, beating players with virtually no space to do it. All told it was so pleasing.
Now the Key Is to Make Ireland More Than the Sum of Its Parts
Giovanni Trapattoni came in for a lot of—often unfair—criticism in the final stage of his tenure as Ireland boss.
He was hired for his reputation as a hard taskmaster and a disciplinarian, and for his back-to-basics, old-school approach to management and tactics, which had been so desperately needed after Steve Staunton's disastrous time in charge.
It should have been no surprise that having gotten a poor Ireland side to Euro 2012, he could do little to stop them becoming cannon fodder for Spain, Italy and Croatia—the tournament's two finalists and a Balkan side that is consistently among the best in the world.
There were some who blamed his tactics for Ireland's failure to qualify for this summer's tournament, but given his age and his reputation, it would be foolish to expect him to change. He'd been hired to do one thing, and it wasn't his fault that that one thing was no longer good enough.
One fair criticism that could be—and often was—levelled at the Italian was that he didn't scout enough young talent across the professional leagues in England.
Martin O'Neill is a very different manager, and like Prandelli has done with Italy, he'll want to give every deserving player a chance to impress. He'll have to, because Ireland will never be world class. He needs to find the pieces that fit and make the team better than the 11 individuals who take to the pitch.