Pitted against the reigning European and world champions in their first game at Euro 2012, Italy secured a well deserved share of the spoils in Gdansk on Sunday evening. A short-lived lead courtesy of substitute Antonio Di Natale was cancelled out by Cesc Fabregas, yet the performance from Cesare Prandelli’s men was nevertheless impressive. Pessimism surrounded la Nazionale ahead of their tournament debut after recent events, but following a hard-fought draw they now have confidence heading into Thursday’s meeting with Croatia.
Predictably, La Furia Roja dominated possession and dictated much of the play at the Gdansk Arena, yet when presented with an opportunity to build play themselves, the Azzurri prevailed and looked dangerous going forward. Having opted to field a 3-5-2 formation with Daniele De Rossi operating in central defence, the Roma man excellently combined his defensive duties with the responsibility of linking the backline to the midfield. Elsewhere, making his international debut, Emanuele Giaccherini performed admirably operating on the left flank, while others produced decent displays given the nature of the game and opposition. Andrea Pirlo proved vital with his assist for Di Natale, while the likes of Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli were tireless if not at their sparkling best.
“The important thing is that they did what I asked, playing well when passing vertically, and gave our all. This is Italy.”
Prandelli was content with his side’s display yet fully aware that they still face a difficult task to ensure qualification into the knockout stages of the competition. Following Croatia’s win over Ireland on Sunday night, Italy must be cautious in their approach of their next opponents. A defeat would see Slaven Bilic’s side move to six points, and with Spain perhaps favourites to take maximum points from their two remaining games, the Azzurri could find themselves struggling to progress. However, having adopted an optimistic mentality for the tournament, it is clear that this Italy side has the potential to match the best and will undoubtedly give an admirable account of themselves regardless of the result.
While it is difficult to see any other side ruthlessly probing away at the Italian defence with such vigour as Spain, a few doubts remain. There is still a lack of a clinical edge up front. Balotelli, Thiago Motta and Claudio Marchisio all had chances to register their names on the score-sheet yet failed to do so. In the final games of the group Italy will go from underdogs to favourites, with the onus shifted on them it is possible these missed chances could cost them going forward. The introduction of Fernando Torres also asked questions of De Rossi that he struggled to answer, which opens the debate over whether Prandelli should stick with the 3-5-2 or revert back to a back four with the likes of Nikica Jelavic lying in wait. That aside, it was refreshing to see this team pushing for the victory until the very last minute and displaying the new mentality Prandelli has instilled in his players. Back in Italy, the reaction was so positive La Gazzetta dello Sport led with ‘Bell’Italia. Ti vogliamo cosi!’ (‘A beautiful Italy, we want you like that!’).
Despite captain Iker Casillas admitting that “the draw was the right result – a point each was fair”, his team-mates were less impressed. “The field was not in good condition and this damaged us,” Xavi said. “It’s shameful that nowadays we should still have to play on this surface” were the words of Fabregas. Andres Iniesta added that “the pitch was in disastrous condition”. Complaints aside, few will argue Italy didn’t deserve at least a point, now the Azzurrimust face Croatia with the same spirit and hopefully take a significant step towards progression with all three points.