Caro Marcello (or Dear Mr Lippi)
I am writing from Wellington in New Zealand. I have put together some top secret files which hopefully you will receive, acknowledge and apply to your game plans for Sunday’s match against the All Whites.
I do so in trepidation and in fear of my freedom. In the 1940s a bunch of Italians living in Wellington were assembled and placed on a remote island called Somes. Whatever their indiscretions, I very much doubt any of the Italian interns sent such classified information back to the motherland.
In a country that has long chased oblong sports balls and endured the frustration of suffering many World Cup losses (you could almost say 23 years of captivity); the locals have developed a stirring interest in football. Although once content to be participating in this year’s World Cup they’re now baying for more FIFA points. Enjoyment of the game has increased to such an extent that supporters want this run to go beyond the group phase and into the knock out stages.
The interest is such that the New Zealand vs. Slovakia Group F tie enjoyed a television audience of 750,000 viewers. This, even though the game was on between 11.30pm and 1am on a school night.
Wellington is a city thwart with danger. From your history you will be well aware of the thuggery espoused by the Brown Shirts and the Red Brigade. Here we have the Yellow Fever and the White Noise. Both factions vehemently believe “white is the new black.” Are the fashionistas of Milan saying the same?
Marcello please don’t forget the friendly you played against the All Whites before last year's Confederations Cup. You can’t take these Kiwis lightly.
In a local online news poll, 75% of readers believe the All Whites will manage at least a draw against your team.
The belief is definitely there. Rory Fallon member of the All Whites has said "I believe in Jesus Christ, my faith comes through him. I just know that something great is going to happen, all the boys know something special is going to happen."
What’s worse Marcello (I hope you’re still reading) Rory watched your game against Paraguay and he believes you will struggle with their aerial game and long diagonal balls.
Here lies the rub. The All Whites don’t posses ball-carrying finesse through the midfield, You need to dominate this part of the park and especially test them out on the flanks. Ricky Herbert plays a 3-4-3 formation. This allows him to field his strongest team: a solid back three and a tall front line.
The game against the Slovaks showed the All Whites don’t play the game at pace. To win (that is what you want to do isn’t?) you will need to control possession and shut the All White front-three from any supply of ball.
I strongly recommend you put your tall timber on the field. New Zealand will challenge your team physically. Your lack of physical prowess is one of your perceived weaknesses. This is an ideal opportunity to play Leonardo Bonucci ( who stands 6 foot 3). I know you’re loyal to Fabio (il capitano) but this may not be a game for the old master. Not playing your celebs maybe a good thing. The less familiarity the All Whites have with your playing XI, all the better.
If you play Criscito and Zambrotta tell them to attack the flanks. Stretch the All Whites. Don’t allow the All Whites to play a settled compact game.
I recommend keep Iaquinta, have him playing as a traditional centre forward. But lets pair him up with a running attacking. How about Pazzini?
We want to dominate the midfield so work out your best fighters. Danielle De Rossi obviously. Daniele’s gladiatorial presence won’t be missed. It would be good to see Gennaro Gattuso get some game time. With being part of AC Milan, Reno met a bunch of New Zealanders (Milan and All Blacks are both sponsored by Adidas). It seems Gattusso drinks beer this will go down well with the All Whites. Angelo Palombo’s high work rate would also be useful.
Above all else keep it calm. Maintain composure as well as possession. Do like you did against Paraguay and avoid yellow cards. Do you like did against Paraguay in the second half and attack with confidence.
Now for the All Whites (I write these notes in haste, to avoid exposure):
Paston – needs to be tested. In corners and other set pieces get Vincenzo to block Paston’s vision. Try the long range shots. You might prosper ala Rob Green. Paston is in there because NZ’s number one keeper is serving suspension for showing disrespect to a match official.
Smith – a new New Zealander. Did not participate in qualifiers. Plays for Ipswich Town, so brings an Anglian approach to his football.
Nelsen – New Zealand’s version of Fabio. A well respected defender and leader. Probably New Zealand’s best known footballer. Plays in the English Premiership with Blackburn Rovers. You can expect a gritty determined effort from Ryan.
Reid – New Zealand sports’ new wonder boy. Born in Takapuna (New Zealand), raised in Christchurch, schooled in Denmark. Prior to New Zealand’s qualifying for the World Cup, Winston was part of different Danish age representative squads. Once Bahrain were beaten, Winston realigned himself with New Zealand. His Maori background makes his eligibility unquestionable.
Bertos – had a great Confederations Cup. This includes a good game against the Azzurri. The 3-4-3 does not suit Leo. With the formation he assumes more defensive responsibilities, something that distracts from his attacking game. Get your boys to test him on the flanks.
Elliot - Old. Unemployed. But still very important to New Zealand’s efforts. Shut him down and block the pipeline (especially the supply of high bombs) that feed New Zealand’s attacking triumvirate.
Vicelich – Normally a central defender. Voted Oceania’s player of the year. A high work rate from your team with intense passing game should allow you to outfox this old master. Watch this guy, as he has a Croatian connection.
Lochhead – You’ll find him stubborn, resolute and sometimes staunch. But don’t let this stop you from getting the boys to run at him. Don’t forget to tell your Armani-clad lads that his girlfriend, Samantha Powell is a former Miss New Zealand and probably the best of the WAGS from the Shaky Isles.
Smeltz – born in Germany, trains in Australia. The latter has helped erase some of the precision from the former. Shane is definitely not a Holden-badged-Opal. Big time scorer in the A league. He hit a few goals when New Zealand beat various Pacific Islands to qualify for the World Cup. Normally plays behind Fallon and Killen. This has stolen from his goal scoring prowess. Not as a big a threat as Killen.
Fallon – seemingly destined for big things. His Dad was Assistant Coach of the All Whites when they last qualified for the World Cup. That’s right Marcello in 1982, when Enzo’s Azzurris won our third star. Good on the header. Needs practice with most everything else. Use one your big defenders to shut him out of the game.
Killen – the sleeping giant is yet to bring his A game to the national squad. Ex-Celtic man. Chris Killen has been auspiciously quiet when playing for New Zealand. A big performance is overdue. Don’t let it be against the Azzurri.
Others to watch out for are attacker Chris Wood (West Brom) and midfielder Tim Brown (recovering from knock endured in World Cup friendly against Australia).