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Euro 2012 Team Preview: Italy
A European Championship trophy-winning run back in 1968 is still to be replicated. Italy after all has been largely inconsistent in the international scene since ’68; they couldn’t even follow-up on their 2000 runner-up finish. In the last two Euros, the Azzurri didn’t even bother knock on the door of the semi-finals – the team went home after the group stages in 2004, and just graced the quarter-finals only to be beaten by Spain via penalties in 2008.
This year, it looks like the same Italian story could be in the show yet again. They are in a group that includes giants Spain, Croatia, and Republic of Ireland. While the latter two may not necessarily threaten the Italians to submission, a mistake of complacency or inconsistency (or both) could see them crash Euro 2012 prematurely.
Italy’s Andrea Pirlo is the tournament’s man-to-watch this summer. The midfield maestro from Juventus was Serie A’s best performer last season (perhaps best performer the entire continent), leading his team to the league title and a perfect season. At 32-years old, the experienced Pirlo could be asked to sit in the front of the equally-experienced Giorgo Chiellini. Chiellini is of course the leader in Italy’s gem of a back-four that includes the likes of Abate, Barzagli, and Balzaretti. Amidst all the fuss about attacking football, Italy’s defense – which by the way conceded only two goals in the entire qualification round – is seen to be the best asset the team could exploit en route to the finals.
A comfortable qualification run saw the Italians notch eight wins and two draws to book their tickets to this summer’s finals. In some of the games during qualification, Italy seemed to have learned to play their own brand of ‘tiki-taka’ football. Although certainly fanciful, it wasn’t at all that effective especially against very big sides like Spain. In fact they were beaten by ‘the Red Fury’ in a friendly two months after qualifying for the Euro finals.
Cesare Prandelli might end up lining-up a 4-3-2-1 as opposed to a 4-3-3. A bolstered midfield after all gives the Italians enough leverage to play possession, and remember, they do have Andrea Pirlo who can definitely do the damage from the middle of the park. Cassano – who got a new lease of life after suffering a mini-stroke in October – is expected to line-up as the side’s most advanced midfielder. His services definitely adds up to what Pirlo is already capable of giving; expect Italy’s engine to be able to go full throttle this summer.
The Italians will have to work harder than ever to win Group C. A runner-up finish will be good enough, however this won’t make their knockout-stages life easy. The organized Italians will nonetheless make it to the knockout stages – unless something very odd takes place – they are at 8/13 to qualify.
Italy could also get past the quarter-finals; they are at 9/4 to reach the semis. But beyond this point of no return, don’t expect much. In the semi-finals, they will be after against a team from Group B – the group of death – which by this time should already have enough momentum to steamroll the tournament. Make sure you cover Italy’s possible exit come the semi-finals, odds at 9.2.
All odds are from Bet365.com (£200 FREE BET!).