Italy's 2014 World Cup campaign came to an abrupt halt as they crashed out of the tournament following a 1-0 defeat to Uruguay.
After winning the whole thing in 2006, this is now the second World Cup in a row that Italy have exited at the group stages. While this campaign wasn't nearly as calamitous as the disaster of 2010—where Italy finished bottom of a group that consisted of New Zealand, Paraguay and Slovakia—the nation's early exit is still extremely disappointing.
Manager Cesare Prandelli resigned almost immediately in the wake of Italy's defeat, coming as some surprise considering the success the 56-year-old has had since taking over in 2010. Not only did Prandelli lead the Azzurri to the final of Euro 2012 amid controversy over a match-fixing scandal back in Italy, but his tactical nous and the way he's changed Italy's playing style mean that he's become somewhat of a fan favorite.
Some might even suggest that he's one of the few—if not the only—managers that's been able to get the best out of Mario Balotelli, although the AC Milan striker's rather flat performances at this World Cup would suggest otherwise.
That all being said, Prandelli's decision to resign is the right one. While his time as manager can be considered a success, the team's performance at this World Cup suggests that he's taken Italy as far as he can, and it's now time for a change.
Although it seems harsh, there is also a case to be made that Prandelli is responsible—at least partly—for Italy's failure to advance to the knockout round.
There are a number of things to blame for Italy's defeat to Uruguay, including Prandelli's tactical decisions.
Sure, the referee's performance is an easy scapegoat, considering his harsh—and arguably incorrect—decision to send off Claudio Marchisio. And then, of course, there's the ridiculous decision to keep Luis Suarez on the pitch after he had clearly bitten Giorgio Chiellini on the shoulder.
However, the referee's poor performance and the Luis Suarez debacle serve as convenient distractions from the fact that Italy simply did not play well and that Prandelli got the majority of his key decisions wrong.
First, there was the choice to play a 3-5-2 formation, presumably in an attempt to stifle the dangerous partnership of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani.
From a defensive standpoint, this tactical decision actually proved to be a good one. The three Juventus centre-backs in Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci handled Suarez and Cavani quite well. Suarez's disgusting biting incident has diverted attention from the fact that he actually had a quiet game by his standards; Cavani, too, was in the Italian defenders' pockets for most of the game as well.
The 3-5-2 formation has actually worked for Italy in the past. Prandelli used it against Spain in the group stages of Euro 2012, and it was viewed as a tactical masterstroke as Italy earned an impressive 1-1 draw against the reigning champions.
The issue with the formation this time around, however, was in attack. While the strike partnership of Mario Balotelli and Ciro Immobile is enticing on paper, it failed spectacularly on the pitch.
Immobile was introduced to the starting lineup in the hope that he would give Balotelli more support, but the 24-year-old had a game to forget, touching the ball just 25 times and being flagged offside three times.
With Balotelli and Immobile having never played in a match together before, it was clear that there was a lack of chemistry and understanding between the two.
The next mistake that Prandelli made was taking Balotelli off at halftime, presumably in the fear that he would be sent off after picking up a yellow card in the first half. This decision backfired once Uruguay scored, as Italy were down to 10 men with just Antonio Cassano as the only true attacking player on the pitch.
Although Balotelli was clearly having an off day, who knows what "Super Mario" could have done if he had been on the pitch for those final 10 minutes after Diego Godin scored.
Against Costa Rica, too, Prandelli made key decisions that didn't pay off for his side. The Azzurri lacked creativity going forward due to a rather defensive midfield trio of Andrea Pirlo, Daniele De Rossi and Thiago Motta. Mario Balotelli was once again isolated, and the introductions of Alessio Cerci and Lorenzo Insigne in the second half did nothing to help Italy's cause.
It's sad to see Prandelli go after everything he's achieved with the Azzurri, but his decision to resign is in the best interest of all parties involved.
The changes that he made in the Italy setup will not be forgotten—before he took charge, Italy were very much a defensive team with little emphasis on playing attractive football. Prandelli has turned the Azzurri into a team built on a solid defense, but with an emphasis on keeping possession and attacking with flair.
What's important now is that the Italian Football Federation find the right man to continue Prandelli's philosophy and get Italy back on track for Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup.
All statistics via WhoScored.com.