EURO 2012 team preview: Italy

25 May 2012

Written by: Shane Palmer Palmer

Italy has had little to celebrate since winning the 2006 FIFA World Cup (image: NaturalBlu via Flickr)

FIFA World ranking:

12th

Group opponents:

Group C:

v. Spain – June 10 – Arena Gdansk, Gdansk

v. Croatia – June 14 – Municipal Stadium Poznan, Poznan

v. Republic of Ireland – June 18 – Municipal Stadium Poznan, Poznan

The road to the championship:

Italy is placed in Group C for EURO 2012, and has been placed in a tough group alongside long time rivals Spain, as well as fellow contenders Croatia and the Republic of Ireland. The Azzuri negotiated the qualifying stage with the minimum of fuss; winning seven and drawing one out of their eight qualifying pool matches, including a 3-0 win by forfeit against Serbia – as a result of off-field hooliganism. While they haven’t been as polished as what we have come to expect of late, the Italians know how to win in the crunch matches and are gearing themselves nicely for a tilt at the title.

Past success:

Champions: 1968

Runners Up: 2000

Star Players:

Gianluigi Buffon – Skipper Buffon continues to stake his claim as one of the most dominant and successful goalkeepers in football history.

Buffon’s fine form at the end of 2011 resulted in him being voted as the player of the month in December 2011 by Juventus fans. A clean sheet in Juventus’ Derby d’Italia victory over Inter took Buffon to his 15th shutout in 27 matches, with an average of just over one goal conceded every two matches.

Mario Balotelli – Balotelli proved in the 2011/12 season that he can be one of the top strikers in the Premier League, yet his highly unpredictable personality seemed to cause a great deal of friction with both his manager and team-mates.

If he fires for the Azzurri – Balotelli could make his country a very tough prospect at EURO 2012. Yet, winning the confidence of Cesare Prandelli will be his first major battle, as the manager may well opt for a less un-conventional player to lead his attack. Just don’t ask him to put on a bib.

Player to watch out for:

Antonio Cassano – The Milan striker is known for his short temper as much as his ability on the pitch, which led to the coining of the neologism Cassanata by his former coach, Fabio Capello, in 2002.

After making his debut in November 2003 against Poland, the 29-year old has been in and out the side.  After a two-year absence from the Azzurri team and exclusion from the 2010 FIFA World Cup squad, Cassano was re-admitted into the Italian team by new head coach Cesare Prandelli, for his first game in charge of the team against Côte d’Ivoire in August 2010.

Almost a month later, in Italy’s UEFA Euro 2012 qualifier played in Estonia; Cassano scored the tying goal in a 1-2 away victory, while also thumping a long-range goal in Italy’s 5-0 UEFA Euro 2012 qualifier win over the Faroe Islands. Cassano finished the leading scorer of any player for the qualifying period with six goals, and could provide another dangerous avenue into attack for the already potent Italians.

The Coach:

Cesare Prandelli – After a somewhat rough start, Prandelli has done an outstanding job of coaching the side, taking over from Marcello Lippi after the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The former Atalanta and Juventus player has been carefully crafting a dangerous squad in recent years, and has the Azzuri primed to assult the tournament; after guiding them through the qualifying stage undefeated. A shrewd tactician that demands hard work from his players, Prandelli has insisted it is time for Italy’s young players and take the heat away from some of the more experienced players.

Classic EURO moment:

1968 – Champions

After drawing 1-1 with Yugoslavia in the first final, the Italians finally got their hands on some silverware in the second match, in which they recorded a comfortable 2-0 victory. The Azzuri grabbed control of the game early and never let go, with Luigi Riva (12th minute) and Pietro Anastasi (31st minute) each making an impact with first half strikes. The win set off joyous scenes at Stadio Olympico in Rome, and remains the only occasion that Italy have won a major international title in front of their home fans.

Prediction:

The Azzuri know how to perform in the big games, but they are faced with an extremely tricky group with the defending champions Spain, the ever improving Irish and always competitive Croatia. If past fortunes are anything to go by, that the last time Italy went through the qualification process undefeated, they won the tournament. While they can’t afford any poor games, they should still finish in the top two with Spain, and be good enough to account for the Republic of Ireland and Croatia to progress through to the next stage.

Ben Rowles is a first year Bachelor of Sports Journalism student at La Trobe University. You can follow him on twitter @benrowles.

upstart is previewing each of the final teams in the lead up to the EURO 2012.  Monday’s team: Republic of Ireland