Mexico vs. Italy: 6 Things We Learned
And we're off. Italy's Confederations Cup campaign began with a bleat rather than a bang, but a win is a win, and there were several positives to be taken from their performance.
Cesare Prandelli still has a lot of work to do with his side and will face stiffer challenges than the Central Americans, but if winning without playing too well is the mark of a good team, then we could have a great Italian side on our hands.
So, what can we take from the Azzurri's opening endeavour in Brazil?
Italy Are a Work in Progess
There'll be some celebrating in the Italy camp, but this game should be taken as a warning shot for the Azzurri.
No one would doubt the individual talent at Cesare Prandelli's disposal, but the Lombard coach is yet to craft a similarly impressive unit despite being in the job since 2010.
This encounter with Mexico summed up this Italy side. At times excellent and then outstandingly average, the efforts of singular stars across the pitch failed to translate into a cohesive, commanding performance.
Certainly, they play more entertaining football than Marcelo Lippi's Italy did, but they lack the confidence or the ability to dominate games that the World Cup winners had. Prandelli needs to change that ahead of the main event next summer.
What Italy Lack Is Still Hard to Quantify
It's hard to put your finger on what exactly Italy are missing. They have one of the game's greatest ever goalkeepers, a host of excellent defenders, a midfield that's the envy of the world and in Mario Balotelli, a complete forward par excellence.
No disrespect to Mexico, but Italy should be better. Daniele De Rossi, Andrea Pirlo and Riccardo Montolivo make up the kind of midfield trio that even a super-rich club would drool over, and though they weren't all on show in this game, there is the making of an incredible forward line for the Azzurri as well. They should not struggle to break down lesser opposition.
This was an entertaining game—in parts—for the neutral, but fans of Prandelli's men will have been extremely frustrated by their lack of potency. There's almost unanimous consent here in Italy that he's the right man for the job, but he needs to unlock this side's true potential.
It Was a Win, but It Won't Inspire Too Much Confidence
Scraping a 2-1 win over an unambitious and disjointed opponent is not where the second-most successful team in the history of world football should be.
Mexico lacked any real intent, and almost all of their positive movement came more as a result of an Italian mistake—or Italian ambivalence—than their own industry.
Their best chances came from defensive howlers, and their goal was a technicolor illustration of Italy's problems.
The penalty came from the sort of clumsy play that you'd never expect from Andrea Barzagli in a Juventus shirt. The Bianconero stopper is known for being confident and assertive on the ball, and off it, and his positional sense is usually excellent. He was none of those things against Giovani Dos Santos.
The same could be said for most of the squad. The Italian football federation like to refer to the national side as "Club Italia," but most of its star players remain a shadow of their Serie A selves in the blue shirt.
Balotelli Needs to Grow Up
Yes, he put in a good performance. And yes, he scored. But Mario Balotelli was wasteful throughout this clash with Mexico, and Prandelli should be able to expect more from his star striker.
Balo's youthful inconsistencies are part of what's made him a global star, but now that he's leading the line for not only AC Milan but Italy as well, it's time for him to mature.
There were several times early in the game when his play was arrogant and wasteful, and—though the rule is stupid—earning himself a card for taking his shirt off to mark his goal is not something you'd expect of a true professional. It could come back to haunt him.
The way in which he used his strength, pace and sublime ball control to get on the end of Emanuele Giaccherini's deft flick was the stuff of football fantasy. Mario has the ability to make that a reality more often and shouldn't be risking suspension with ostentatious celebration.
Speaking of Emanuele Giaccherini...
Go back a slide and look at that delicious flick again. Go on, you know you want to.
Emanuele Giaccherini is making quite the name for himself in an Italy shirt these days, and though he's only got 10 caps to his name at the age of 28, if he keeps this up, he'll have plenty more by the time he hangs up his boots. Hard to believe he cost Juve just over €4 million.
The Juventus mezzala scored the fastest goal in Azzurri history against Haiti, and though the result there didn't go the way that Italy would have expected, his performance was duly noted.
Giaccherini has forced his way into one of the most contested midfield/attacks in the world, and he's performed well for Prandelli, using his experience and ability from his early days as a winger to great purpose for Italy.
The direct style of play he favours brings results, and the rest of the Italian side should follow suit. Short passes and wide play is all well and good, but if you've got a midfield like Italy's, you should use it. For proof of that point, go back one slide and re-watch the single best thing Italy did all night.
Mexico Have Their Work Cut out for Them
The 1999 Confederations Cup champions are now in a spot of bother. You'd expect them to beat Japan, but a result against the hotly favoured hosts in Brazil is another matter.
Barzagli probably should have been sent off, but at this level, teams shouldn't expect to win thanks to an advantage gained from red card situations. Either you have enough about you or you don't.
For all their talent and attacking potential, against Italy, the Mexicans looked bereft of ideas and devoid of ambition. This writer can't think of any more damning indictment of a football team.
Nothing Learned Here...but Let's Look at Pirlo's Goal Anyway
So Andrea Pirlo can take good free-kicks. Who knew? Well, everyone. Obviously.
There's nothing to be said about this that could possibly qualify it as a lesson to be learned from the game, so I'm just going to cheat and ignore the rules. Think of this as bonus content.