Italy vs. Uruguay: 6 Things We Learned
After an encouraging start against England, Italy's World Cup aspirations were dealt a crushing blow by Costa Rica before being completely snuffed out in controversial fashion against Uruguay.
The 2006 champions were among the outside favourites to win the tournament in Brazil but are now on their way home in disarray after just three group games.
Players are coming under heavy fire in the Italian media, and Cesare Prandelli has resigned as coach, taking full responsibility for the Azzurri's failings. It wasn't supposed to be like this for the four-time winners, and some difficult questions now need answering before qualifying for Euro 2016 begins.
Until He Proves He's Worth a Call, Balotelli's Time Is Up for Italy
There were many who didn't want him at the tournament at all, but Prandelli kept faith in Mario Balotelli, hoping against hope that Italy's most frustratingly talented player would finally come good.
He didn't. Balo scored the winner against England and then spent the rest of his time in Brazil sulking around the pitch, drifting in and out of two games in which he was desperately needed.
Ciro Immobile was far from the impressive striker we saw at Torino last season, but in fairness to the Borussia Dortmund forward, he wasn't given a chance to properly settle and never seemed like anything other than a Plan B. Now, he deserves the opportunity to lead the line for the Azzurri, or to at least compete for the place with Fiorentina's Giuseppe Rossi and Roma's Mattia Destro.
Rossi, Destro and Immobile all had better years with their clubs than Balotelli, they all caused less trouble and they all worked harder for their teammates. Balotelli doesn't deserve to be chosen above them simply because he's the biggest star, and was once an extremely talented teenager. Until he proves that he's ready to work hard and deliver on his promise, Mario's time with the Nazionale should be as limited as his interest seems to be.
The Midfield Missed Daniele De Rossi
He might not be as elegant as Andrea Pirlo, but Daniele De Rossi's absence was keenly felt in the centre against Uruguay.
The Roma midfielder creates balance, working hard to connect the defence and the players farther up the pitch, while also offering a physical presence and plenty of energy to compensate for his playmaking teammates' shortcomings.
Claudio Marchisio is a fine player, but he couldn't make Italy tick the way De Rossi does, and neither could Thiago Motta.
Buffon Is Still Among the Best
It will be scant consolation to Italy fans, but Gianluigi Buffon proved that he's still among the best shot-stoppers in the game with his remarkable double save in the first half.
Salvatore Sirigu impressed against England, and there are several young and exciting keepers coming up through the ranks in Serie A, but if he still has the desire, the 36-year-old Juventus captain should continue until at least Euro 2016, because when he's on form the Azzurri won't find a better last line of defence.
The Referee Played Too Big a Part
Criticising referees is a popular pastime among football fans and commentators alike, but it's often unduly harsh because they have a difficult, and for the most part thankless, job.
This game, however, is one of the few times when it's fair to say that Marco Rodriguez did a poor job. Balotelli could have been sent off but wasn't, and Marchisio shouldn't have been shown a red card but was.
He then failed to punish Luis Suarez for what appears to have been a biting attack on Giorgio Chiellini, not long before Uruguay scored the game's only goal. The South American's lawyer has dismissed the incident as "casual play" to Uruguayan radio Sport 890 (h/t The Guardian), but it looked very serious and deliberate. Considering there was little effort made by the player to disguise it, so the officials should have seen it.
Italy were far from their best in the game, and it would be a stretch to say that poor refereeing definitely cost them the match, but having someone in charge who is unable or unwilling to apply the rules sensibly never helps either side, and Rodriguez should have done a lot better.
Luis Suarez Has a Serious Problem
He might be one of the world's best strikers, but it's time to ask whether or not Suarez should even be playing the game anymore after yet another violent attack on an opponent.
Prandelli Leaving Is Not the Answer
Prandelli's resignation looks like a decision made in haste, and the FIGC are right to hope that they can make him reconsider.
The former Fiorentina boss is popular with the players and transformed the national side after a disappointing 2010 World Cup into Euro 2012 finalists. They also performed well in last year's Confederations Cup, and although the Brazil exit will be devestating for everyone involved in the Azzurri, it wasn't all the manager's fault.
The Gazzetta dello Sport (here in English via Eurosport) claims that there was trouble between Balotelli and Antonio Cassano and the rest of the group off the field, and on the pitch several high-profile players failed to deliver when it mattered most.
Italy will need to recover quickly from this upset, because their Euro 2016 campaign begins in September. It's true that there's no shortage of good Italian managers capable of taking over, but it's hard to see any of them being better equipped to pick up the pieces than Prandelli.