7 Questions for Cesare Prandelli Ahead of Italy's World Cup Clash with England
The last time Italy played against England, in the quarter-finals of the 2012 Euro, they shot 20 times on target and hit the post twice—all without a goal. The Azzurri had to rely on the cheekiness of Andrea Pirlo in the penalty kicks.
This time it is different. The start of every World Cup is a question for Italy; they either rise slowly or collapse spectacularly. Italy have not won an international game since September, when they beat the Czech Republic and qualified for the World Cup in Brazil.
They cannot really afford to take their time in Manaus.
This is where they will play England on Saturday, on a field that is patchy at best and in conditions that could reach 99 percent humidity. (It looked like the organizers decided to spray brown areas with green paint.)
This is the state of the pitch in Manaus. England will face Italy here on Saturday. pic.twitter.com/c9qlljvauK— 2014 World Cup (@2014WC_Brazil) June 12, 2014
Coach Cesare Prandelli has worried about the fitness of his players for the past year, and that is probably because eight players had asked for a substitution during one hot and sweaty game in the Confederations Cup, per the Los Angeles Times.
“At the start of every tournament there is always pessimism in Italy,” Prandelli told reporters on Monday (h/t The Guardian). “This is a team that, in terms of fitness, has the chance to get to the latter stages of the World Cup.”
Here we ask a few more questions about Prandelli’s team and their chances against England.
Who Will Start?
Early on Saturday, it was revealed that Gianlugi Buffon would miss the match due to an ankle sprain.
Buffon is likely to be out of today's game v England. He tweeted 'there are many ways to be important even if you're not a protagonist. '— tariq panja (@tariqpanja) June 14, 2014
In Buffon's place is Salvatore Sirigu, the PSG goalkeeper who can make spectacular saves. He has only played one competitive match for Italy—and he also injured his ribs in training earlier last week—but he had a fine season in France, going a record 949 minutes without conceding a goal in Ligue 1.
The obvious answer is Mario Balotelli. He is Italy's wild card, but he is also the most talented in attack. He could be joined by Antonio Cassano, who is the best runner in the heat, and Ciro Immobile, Serie A's top scorer.
Andrea Pirlo, Daniele De Rossi and Gianluigi Buffon are locks. The biggest question is whether Prandelli will play Marco Verratti with De Rossi and Pirlo in midfield. Verratti is a very capable passer, but some believe he is too similar to Pirlo. However, Verratti could divide England's attention.
Mattia De Sciglio probably would have started at left-back if not for a calf strain. Giorgio Chiellini could replace him in that position and Ignazio Abate could fill in at right-back.
Are Italy Ready?
As soon as Italy started training in Rio, Prandelli saw things that needed to be improved. "We are not sharp enough yet,” Prandelli said on Monday (h/t The Guardian). “We have done the physical work, trained hard and are in good shape but we know we must improve before we start the tournament against England."
But we don't really know if Italy are ready.
Prandelli has done a good job disguising his plans, as B/R's Paolo Bandini writes, by playing several different formations, even in training. "If you lot didn’t understand what we’re planning," he told reporters last week, "then that means we’re on the right track."
Are There Any More Fitness Concerns?
Balotelli had some muscular issues, but Italy's doctor told reporters that he is "ready" to play, per Goal.com. The rest of the squad is healthy. Antonio Cassano is the only real concern, but he still manages to see the field and put himself in great positions without running so much. Running is not his game. "Cassano is very motivated and in great shape," said Italy's team physician in May (h/t Sportsnet), "he is training very well with great effort."
Who Is the Key Man?
Pirlo already tormented England in the 2012 Euro, and he said this week that it is "one of my targets, to play like I played in Kiev" (h/t Daily Mail). Pirlo admitted that England are a better team now with younger players who can run more than Italy. (And they know Pirlo well enough to stop him.) But he said "we know how to face them. We are studying them. Italy always does well against England."
Is the Heat a Problem?
To get ready for the World Cup, and to prepare for all the sweaty conditions in Brazil, Coach Prandelli forced his players to ride bikes and run on treadmills—in a sauna. So the heat is something Italy have considered.
How Will Italy Play?
The Azzurri are no longer the practitioners of catenaccio. They are a much more attacking group, and there is a desire to score goals from players of all positions. Prandelli does not really like having any particular point of reference in attack. Italy's back line is still mostly Juventus—and there is a lot of familiarity there—so they are not totally neglecting the defence. Expect them to play either a 4-3-1-2 formation or one with wingers.
What Is Italy’s Biggest Weakness?
Their mentality is also a big question. Italy are not genuine favourites, and they were dropped into a group with two other former World Cup winners. "The Italians are more united in tough times," Prandelli told the BBC, "and when we are united we can achieve important results."
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