Cesare Prandelli Has Options for Italy's World Cup Clash with Costa Rica

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Cesare Prandelli Has Options for Italy's World Cup Clash with Costa Rica
Antonio Calanni/Associated Press

Italy got their World Cup off to the perfect start against England, even without their first-choice 'keeper and a recognised left-back.

Mattia De Sciglio, who was most likely to start in the position, got injured in training, along with the captain and longtime first choice in goal, Gigi Buffon, meaning Cesare Prandelli had to shuffle his deck significantly before the Azzurri's most important group-stage game.

Whether he chooses to do so again before their next game remains to be seen. Both Buffon and De Sciglio are thought to be recovering quickly, but a decision on both will be left late.

Given that Italy have still got to face Uruguay, the manager might decide to play it safe with two players who can still play important roles in the competition.

Paris Saint-Germain's Salvatore Sirigu did a fine job against England and could be rewarded with another, rare chance to impress between the posts for Italy.

Speaking to La Gazzetta dello Sport (interview here in Italian), the 27-year-old Sirigu admitted that he'd been delighted to play against England, but that, confronted with the talent and reputation of the veteran Juventus captain, he had to be "realistic" about his chances.

He went on to say that it wasn't a competition between the two stoppers, and that he's just happy to make his own contribution to Italy's campaign.

It seems unthinkable that a fit Buffon would sit on the bench, but the longer his recovery takes, the harder it will be for Prandelli—famously committed to building the team based on meritocracy—to drop Sirigu, especially if the Sardinian continues to perform well.

Should the captain be fit for Costa Rica, it's likely that normal service will be resumed and the 36-year-old will add to his impressive tally of 140 caps.

In front of goal, things are less certain.

Before the tournament, the defence was seen as Italy's weakest link. Prandelli's options at the back are hardly shabby, but while the central defence is solid, it's not particularly mobile.

And for a country that's used to the likes of Gaetano Scirea, Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini and Fabio Cannavaro at centre-back, there was some concern that the current generation weren't as dependable as their predecessors were.

Having seen the opposition so far, however, Giorgio Chiellini & Co. look like they might actually be among the best at the tournament.

The trend this summer is focused on attacking football and outscoring opponents, and none of the favourites to make the final can boast a defensive line-up much better than Italy's.

Even Brazil—with the most expensive centre-back pairing in the history of football—looked insecure in their area. David Luiz is as erratic as he can be brilliant, and Thiago Silva hasn't looked like the world-beater he once did since he left AC Milan.

On the flanks, the possible return of De Sciglio would give Prandelli more attacking intent out wide and allow Chiellini to move back into the centre, where he's more comfortable.

The Juve star acquitted himself admirably against England, however, so the coach could decide to leave him there in favour of more protection at the back, hoping that his midfield and front line have enough about them to compensate going forward.

Univision
Pace on the flanks exposed Italy weakness

Italy were exposed by Daniel Sturridge's pace for England's equaliser in their opening game, and the lightning-quick Joel Campbell will be a concern, assuming Costa Rica can find the space to unleash the Arsenal forward.

Chiellini isn't the quickest player, but he's a lot better defensively than Prandelli's other options at full-back and so probably remains the safest bet in a risky position.

The Central Americans play a defensive, counter-attacking style of football, but with Chiellini staying behind to move in centrally and cover when needed, Matteo Darmian should again prosper on the right.

The Torino player surprised a few observers against England, but he's been a solid performer in Serie A for some time now, and even if he's not as well-known as Prandelli's other option, Milan's Ignazio Abate, he deserves to keep his place following an almost flawless display in the opening game.

The physical demands of playing in Manaus will be at the forefront of Prandelli's thinking, and as their next opponents are the weakest in the group, the game might be an opportunity to rest one or more key players in the midfield and up front.

Thiago Motta could get a game and so too could Alberto Aquilani—especially if Andrea Pirlo is rested. Alongside Marco Verratti, the Fiorentina midfielder can provide plenty of creativity and distribution, which would allow the talismanic Pirlo to be all the fresher for the final tie with Uruguay.

Prandelli can make several changes up front without weakening his side. Mario Balotelli remains a favourite, but Ciro Immobile is an exciting, clinical striker who's been in scintillating form all season, and it would be a shame if he didn't get a starting opportunity in the tournament.

Behind the front man, both Antonio Candreva and Claudio Marchisio were excellent against England in the opener, but more conventional forwards might be a better option against Costa Rica who, unlike England, will be happy to sit back in a compact and defensive formation.

Antonio Cassano has formed a very natural partnership with Balotelli in the past, most notably at Euro 2012. Then, the Parma playmaker was coming back from injury and still unfit, but he's arrived in Brazil in good shape and after a solid league campaign.

Immobile, meanwhile, has a similarly effortless connection with both Lorenzo Insigne—with whom he shone at Pescara—and Alessio Cerci, who played behind him this year, when both were brilliant for Torino.

Prandelli won't want to upset the fine balance his side struck in their opening fixture, but with tough conditions and—hopefully—a lot of football still to be played, this is as good a game as any to rotate his squad, both to protect key personnel and to give a chance to his other players to make their own mark.

 

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