Italy and Spain have both experienced the thrill of winning a World Cup recently as they are the last two nations to hoist the trophy. Italy was on top of the world in 2006 when they ousted France on penalty kicks in Germany, but the 2006 world champs have gone in the exact opposite direction as the 2010 world champions Spain.
No. 1 ranked Spain has risen to the top while Italy has fallen off following a disappointing 2010 World Cup in which the Azzurri failed to make it out of the group stage for the first time in history.
In a rebuilding stage, Italy is looking to reclaim the glory of 2006 and have a good showing at next summer’s European Championship, mixing youth with experience. Facing tough opposition from Spain, Wednesday’s friendly between both teams was a tremendous matchup during the international friendly period.
The world champions came to Bari, Italy with many of their starters including players like David Villa, David Silva, Iker Casillas and Fernando Torres, expecting to face stiff competition from an Italian side with the likes of Antonio Cassano, Andrea Pirlo, Giorgio Chiellini and Giuseppe Rossi. Italy proved to be too much for Spain in the end as the Azzurri came away victorious on this day.
Cesare Prandelli’s men started off strong after Domenico Criscito’s through-ball found Ricardo Montolivo, who elegantly chipped Casillas to put Italy ahead in the 11th minute.
The Azzurri dominated most of the first half but Spain equalized just before halftime on a questionable penalty called on Chiellini. Fernando Llorente and Chiellini got tangled up in the box as the German referee pointed to the penalty spot. Xabi Alonso converted and put his team right back in the game.
Spain was forced to substitute Fernando Torres and Gerard Pique due to injury and their replacements found it difficult marking the speed of Rossi and Cassano. The Spaniards had chances of their own but could not put the ball on target, wasting some good opportunities. Those missed opportunities surely cost them in the end.
Still tied at one, substitute Alberto Aquilani put the Italians in front 2-1 after his shot deflected off Raul Albiol and past new goalkeeper Victor Valdes. Mario Balotelli sparked the team upon entering the game but his efforts were spoiled by Valdes, who denied Balotelli of a good scoring opportunity late in the game.
Spain came closest to scoring an equalizer in the second half when Llorente’s shot deflected off of an Italian defender and nearly trickled into the net. Buffon was able to hold off the Spanish attack after a late surge by the Roja, earning a well-deserved win for the Azzurri after an exciting game.
The hosts took a huge step in the right direction by beating a World Cup champion team and doing it in impressive fashion, dictating the style and rhythm of the game. Prandelli partnered Rossi and Cassano together up top in the first half and also provided Balotelli with some valuable international experience in a big game.
Domenico Criscito might very well have had the best game of any player on the field with his speed down the left side and quality passes that gave the Spanish back line problems throughout the entire game.
Montolivo scored his first international goal for his country, Pirlo played well and the attack looked to be very effective. Young Andrea Ranocchia also had a solid game in defense playing alongside Chiellini. The Italians can take a lot from this game while preparing for a busy next couple of months dealing with Euro qualification and upcoming friendlies.
Prandelli has injected an energy into this team that was lacking under Marcello Lippi in the 2010 World Cup. The young Italian players really showed a lot to Italy supporters who have doubted the team after last summer’s embarrassment. It might have only been a friendly, but this game might just propel the Azzurri back to where they were not too long ago.