Italian National Football Team Is Clearly Back on Path to the Top

Peter LomuscioCorrespondent IFebruary 16, 2011

DORTMUND, GERMANY - FEBRUARY 09: Giuseppe Rossi of Italy celebrates scoring the first goal during the International Friendly match between Germany and Italy on February 9, 2011 in Dortmund, Germany.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
Claudio Villa/Getty Images

Fresh off a 1-1 draw in Dortmund against the consistent German national team, La Nazionale has given its nation and its supporters plenty to look forward to.

Yes, it may have only been a friendly, but this showing was the most encouraging performance by the Italian national team in over four years.

Manager Cesare Prandelli deserves applause, as he is largely responsible for accomplishing the simple part of the job, and that is to select world-class talent to fill the prestigious Azzurri squad, something that hasn’t been done in recent years.

Now will come the more difficult part of the job, and that will be for Prandelli to use this group of talent and form a team that works together and wins at the highest of levels.

After achieving the ultimate by conquering the world at the 2006 FIFA World Cup, Italia has hardly been a shadow of its normal self since. Their mediocre performance at Euro 2008 was a disappointment despite the fact that eventual champions Spain needed penalties to eliminate them in the quarterfinals. As well, the 2010 World Cup will go down as one of the most embarrassing tournaments in Italia’s history.

The Italian national team was in desperate need of a resurgence, and they handed the keys to Cesare Prandelli. Prandelli looks up to the challenge, as he has the Azzurri at the top of their European qualifying group, and despite the fact that they haven’t played at the highest of levels while getting results, they are showing progression while involving young talent.

Prandelli seems to have Italia on the right path to not only be contenders for the upcoming European Championship in 2012, but also for the years following.

This friendly against Germany may have only resulted in a draw, but the squad as a whole was impressive and efficient. They also displayed a very fast-paced, attacking-style performance while also managing to stay organized at the back.

This can only improve for the Italian national side as their chemistry increases and they become more familiar with each other’s play.

Lets take a look at what is likely ahead for Italia and who will likely participate in the near future for one of the finest national sides on the planet.

Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon may be on the downside of his career and constantly nagged by injuries of late, but he still presents himself as the best option for Italia in the near future. But that is not a shot at the several candidates that can step up if needed like Salvatore Sirigu, Emiliano Viviano, Morgan De Sanctis and Gianluca Curci.

The defence is always the heart and strength of Italia, and ever since the recent departure of reliable greats Fabio Cannavaro and Alessandro Nesta, the Azzurri have been in search of the future central defending duo to solidify the back line. That search looks to finally be complete.

Andrea Ranocchia and Leonardo Bonucci are both 23 years old, and they look likely to lock down the center of the Italian defence for the next decade. They have already begun to show what they are capable of, and Italians worldwide have to like what they see. The tall centrebacks already have a good chemistry together from playing side by side for a season at Bari, and the partnership will only improve as their experience increases.

On the outside of the defence there is also plenty of talent for the Italians. Giorgio Chiellini looks likely to move back to his original position on the outside left, and supporters shouldn’t expect any drop-off from the competitive and strong defender. This then provides depth on the left, pushing a talented Domenico Criscito to a substitute role.

On the right side Italia looks likely to interchange the use of Mattia Cassani and Christian Maggio until the talented 20-year-old Davide Santon is ready to take the role.

There is also some nice depth in the back with names like Davide Astori, Salvatore Bocchetti, Luca Antonini, Marco Motta, Federico Balzaretti, Luca Antonelli, Lorenzo De Silvestri and Ignazio Abate able to stand in when needed for the Azzurri back line.

The midfield may not be as deep as the defence, but it is very top-heavy with plenty of skill and technical abilities in players like Andrea Pirlo, Daniele De Rossi, Alberto Aquilani, Riccardo Montolivo and Claudio Marchisio. These talents are ready to win now and are likely to be depended on from now through the next World Cup and possibly beyond in some cases.

To complete the midfield, though, Prandelli is still in search for the proper player to fill the “Gattuso role” in the middle of the pitch, someone who will constantly battle and hustle and do the dirty work to win back possession for the side.

Thiago Motta and Antonio Nocerino have been given recent looks for this role, but one has yet to stand out. Angelo Palombo is a veteran leader that possesses some of those qualities and also has much more technical ability, as he seems to be the most capable at the present time for the position.

In the attack Prandelli certainly seems to have the right idea also. He is likely to line the Azzurri in a 4-3-1-2 or a 4-3-2-1 for the foreseeable future, and he has the options to fill those roles rather confidently.

The striker position has reliable options like Giampaolo Pazzini, Alberto Gilardino, Alessandro Matri and Marco Borriello. Other talents who have the ability to also play striker, but are better suited to play a slightly more playmaking role just behind a striker in attack are Antonio Cassano, Giuseppe Rossi and Mario Balotelli.

Fabio Quagliarella is also likely to continue to get looks if he recovers well from his recent knee injury due to his inspiring showing at the disastrous recent World Cup. The talented Sebastian Giovinco surely deserves a role off the bench, as his unique dribbling and playmaking talents are sure to harass defenders worldwide.

So all the depressed and embarrassed Italian supporters out there from this past World Cup, don’t be depressed, because it won't be long until Italia is back fighting for the top spot of the football world. The talent is there, so don’t be persuaded otherwise. The squad is not in a lengthy transition and should be expected to be a highly competitive contender for the upcoming Euro 2012 tournament.

Look for Italia to comfortably top their European qualifying group and play to a higher standard of play in 2011 that will be visually noticeable. The Italians' next match is on the 25th of March at Slovenia, and it will be important to continue to show progression in their battle back to the peak.