Pages

Friday, October 12, 2012

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

ITALY v ENGLAND Preview Exhibitionists At Their Finest


Kickoff August 15th @ 3:00pm EDT

Tomorrow afternoon/evening/morning depending on which part of the world you'll be tuning in; the Azzurri embark on their first challenge of a new era... The Post EURO 2012 Era. Following defeat at the hands of the Spanish in Kiev, the Azzurri have been in hibernation. A number of notable Italians have been packing their things and moving abroad - namely Verratti, Aquilani, Borini, etc... Which does bode well for the Italian game in general. All too long, we've watch Brazilians and Argentinians infiltrate the ranks of notable clubs like Milan and Inter; that now it's time we spread our seed abroad and infiltrate teams in the mighty German, England and Spanish leagues...and French!?

Also, Aquilani didn't really move abroad; instead he moved home to Fiorentina... But you know what I mean don't you?

The Match

This is not a rematch from the Quarterfinal bout between the Azzurri and the English. Far be it for me to speculate; but with both teams resorting to a younger squad for this match; we could see some interesting things take place on the pitch. I don't expect the same tenacity and consistent domination from the Azzurri that we saw in that Quarterfinal. Instead, the match should have a bit of a cyclical feel to it. We'll look good for parts of it; then the English will look good as we try and find out footing. We have too many unknowns going for us tomorrow; which should make the spectacle more of a wait and see affair than one contingent of proving our detractors wrong. From a football enthusiast's point of you I am excited to see some of these younglings taking to the pitch. I would have liked to see Balotelli and Giovinco start upfront but both have been left at home; one for an eye infection (Balotelli) and the other  is returning from China.  From an Azzurri perspective, I'm doubting whether we'll be able to compete to the level we are used to; by missing some key figures in this lineup I fully expect to see errors; some solid plays and more errors; all I can hope for is a repeat performance by a newbie reminiscent of the performance Rosina put in under Donadoni against South Africa years ago. If you missed that exhibition match; Donadoni fielded a young squad in that exhibition match; Rosina bossed the midfield and looked great; only to never see the Azzurri uniform again. Ah the good 'ol days; when talent wasn't appreciated. 

The Squads

Italy

Andrea Consigli (Atalanta), Mattia Perin (Genoa), Salvatore Sirigu (Paris St Germain); Ignazio Abate, Francesco Acerbi, Davide Astori (Cagliari), Federico Balzaretti (Roma), Mattia De Sciglio (AC Milan), Daniele Gastaldello (Sampdoria), Angelo Obinze Ogbonna (Torino), Federico Peluso (Atalanta); Alberto Aquilani (Fiorentina), Daniele De Rossi (Roma), Alessandro Diamanti (Bologna), Antonio Nocerino, Andrea Poli (Sampdoria), Ezequiel Schelotto (Atalanta), Marco Verratti (Paris Saint Germain); Mario Balotelli (Man City), Mattia Destro (Roma), Stephan El Shaarawy (AC Milan), Manolo Gabbiadini (Atalanta).


England

Joe Hart (Manchester City), Jack Butland (Birmingham City), John Ruddy (Norwich City); Leighton Baines (Everton), Ryan Bertrand (Chelsea), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), John Ruddy (Tottenham Hotspur), Phil Jagielka (Everton), Kyle Walker (Tottenham Hotspur); Michael Carrick (Manchester United), Tom Cleverley (Manchester United), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), Adam Johnson (Manchester City), Jake Livermore (Tottenham Hotspur), James Milner (Manchester City), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal), Jack Rodwell (Everton), Ashley Young (Manchester United); Andy Carroll (Liverpool), Jermain Defoe (Tottenham Hotspur), Daniel Sturridge (Chelsea), Theo Walcott (Arsenal).

Final Thoughts

Tomorrow's match should be a good one conducive of two bitter arch rivals duking it out. Although there will be some sloppy play and getting to know each other moments; I do expect the Newbies will be eager to make their mark on their respective squads, elevating the speed of play to a higher level than just your ordinary exhibition match. Regardless, tomorrow's back-to-school for the Azzurri and some of these guys will be eager to leave their mark. 


Monday, August 13, 2012

BEST NATIONAL TEAM GOALKEEPER


You can thank (or maybe not) Marco for this post. A little while ago in a galaxy far away (oops, sorry, wrong blog) I had suggested to Marco to do a best of series of posts in between the more relevant and full posts. Anyway, a few days ago, Marco posted to see if anyone was interested in helping out with the blog.

Foolishly, I emailed Marco and offered to help. He replied back milliseconds later that there would be no compensation, no glory and, oh by the way, I needed to post 3 articles per week. I said whatttttt? This guy is crazy, doesn’t he realize I’m a slacker extraordinaire and try to avoid work like a vampire shuns sunlight?

Enough comedy for today, and on to the real reason for this post. Before anything else, though, please realize that I’m not a professional writer and I’m just trying to help out with the blog.  Also, I look at teams and games from the perspective of a fan or spectator and not at the technical level of the players or of a particular match. Anyway, the first post on this best of series of blogs will focus on goalies that have played for the national team.  I will post my picks, and you can post yours as well. There are only two rules, if you want to call them that: one, you must have watched the player play in matches (either in person or on TV), so players from your era only; and second, you can disagree/criticize with someone’s choice(s) but do so politely and without insults; I don’t think I can moderate your posts but I’ll send plenty of frowny face smilies your way if you break this last rule.  Hope you will be entertained, amused (if not  bemused) by my choices; players will be listed in chronological order:

Dino Zoff: active on the national team from 1968 until 1983 with a total of 112 caps. He is a World Cup winner (Spain 1982), and the oldest winner of the trophy (40 years old). I first saw Zoff (with the national team) during the Argentina 1978 campaign. Was too young at the time, not even a teenager, to feel the disappointment of that, too early, exit by the Azzurri. However, he went to captain one of the best Italian sides, arguably, to an improbable win at the 1982 World Cup in Spain; the team left in its wake the carcasses of Brazil, Argentina and West Germany to capture the trophy for the third time.


Walter Zenga: active on the national team from 1987 to 1995 having made a total of 58 appearances for the senior team. Zenga was the starting goalkeeper for Italy ’90. Though the team beat England for the third place finish, it was a disappointing tournament for one of the most talented, and balanced, Italian teams in World Cup competitions; this point can be argued back and forth until the end of time with no clear cut winner.


Gianluca Pagliuca: active on the national team from 1991 to 1998 with a total of 39 appearances for the team; a surprisingly, at least for me, low figure. He is probably best remembered for two incidents during the USA 1994 campaign: one, became the first goalkeeper to be sent off in a World Cup match, when he was dismissed for handling the ball outside his area against Norway; and, during the final against Brazil, “kissing” the goal post that “helped”  Pagliuca save a shot on goal. As we all well know, both his appearances ended with exit by the team after losing in PKs.


Gianluigi Buffon: active on the team since 1997 and with no clear challenger to unseat Saint Gigi. He has made 120 appearances (and counting) for the team; he’s the third most capped member in the history of the national  team, as well as the most capped goalkeeper in its history (taking the honor from Dino Zoff). His stay with the national team has seen the farcical elimination of the team during Japan/Korea 2002, the absolutely outstanding performance of the World Cup winning squad of Germany 2006 to his injury in the first group game of South Africa 2010 that led to an atrocious and embarrassing early exit. Buffon is considered the best Italian goalkeeper ever, as well as one of the best (if not the best) in the world.


These are my choices. Feel free to include as many or as few names in your post as you want.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Selections are in for Italy v England Friendly

Following a run to the Euro 2012 Final; we now begin our decent to the World Cup in 2014. With all the hoopla over Brazilan Neymar at the Olympics; Coach Prandelli decided to go young... And boy does this Azzurri selection look young.

Italy squad: Andrea Consigli (Atalanta), Mattia Perin (Genoa), Salvatore Sirigu (Paris St Germain); Ignazio Abate (AC Milan), Francesco Acerbi (AC Milan), Davide Astori (Cagliari), Federico Balzaretti (Roma), Mattia De Sciglio (AC Milan), Daniele Gastaldello (Sampdoria), Angelo Obinze Ogbonna (Torino), Federico Peluso (Atalanta); Alberto Aquilani (Fiorentina), Daniele De Rossi (Roma), Alessandro Diamanti (Bologna), Antonio Nocerino (AC Milan), Andrea Poli (Sampdoria), Ezequiel Schelotto (Atalanta), Marco Verratti (Paris Saint Germain); Mario Balotelli (Man City), Mattia Destro (Roma), Stephan El Shaarawy (AC Milan), Manolo Gabbiadini (Atalanta).

Right off the bat there are no Juventus or Napoli players included on this squad; they have more important matters taking place this weekend at the SupperCoppa final. An interesting exclusion comes in the form of Antonio Cassano; who partnered with Balotelli in a meticulous attack at euro 2012; he's been left off. One has to assume this is due to his age and Prandelli wanting to include some younger talent; however, I believe it has something to do with the Milan player's midweek performance in a 5-1 drubbing by Madrid; although if that was the case no Milan player should be included..

What are your thoughts on this line-up; what combinations would Hu like to see on the pitch!.



- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, July 9, 2012

THE MAN of EURO 2012: VOTE HERE :)

Let me begin with an apology. Work has been murder! But thanks to the great recommendation of "Angel" I'll be doing some pieces to help involve the group a little more. So, let's begin with Part One!

Who is Your Man of EURO 2012

You may only vote for one. Please state your reason why this man is your MAN of EURO 2012! 
And the Nominees are...

Gianluigi Buffon
Captain of the Azzurri


Andrea Pirlo
Puppet Master of the Azzurri Midfield


Antonio Cassano
From Near-Death To Orchestrating The Italian Attack to the Finals


Mario Balotelli
Our New #9 Demonstrating P90X Works Against the Germans

Danielle De Rossi
The Roman Gladiator has Cometh

Federico Balzaretti
"Did Prandelli Really Not Start Me for the Final?"


Cesare Prandelli
"One Moment. I'm Working on My Masterpiece"



Who is Your Man of EURO 2012. I'll disclose my Man of Euro 2012 in the comments section below!

Monday, July 2, 2012

EURO 2012: ITALY 0 - 4 SPAIN: Final Review

And so EURO 2012 came to a conclusion in Kiev last evening in what will go down as the most lopsided final in the history of the European Championship. Popular convention was thrown out the window and the Spanish put to bed a hoodoo which has jinxed them since 1920 and finally beat the Azzurri in regulation to seal their second consecutive European Championship and sail into the history books as one of the most successful national teams in history.

The popular consensus within the media and throughout this forum has been that the Azzurri were punching above their weight most of this tournament. Luckily striking down the English in penalties and assailing through the Germans on sheer fortitude. When it came time for them to contest the Spanish for their crown; luck had finally caught up with the Azzurri. Spain humbled us into submission and dazzled us with a stunning lecture on how football is supposed to be played. 

The media; at least the farcical english media we must bare witness to in Canada made me feel as though the Azzurri were a second division squad up against the mighty Catalonians from Barcelona.  If we are to believe the fodder the media forces down our throat; then we the Azzurri will quickly slide form World Champions in 2006 down to the bowels of the footballing world. In an instance during yesterday's telecast the three geniuses hired to decipher the action on the pitch began to regale us with their predictions for WORLD CUP 2014. They anticipated Germany to make an unbelievable comeback, while Argentina, Brazil and England would definitely challenge. But, they were sure to mention that it was almost certain that the defending European Champions Spain would likely be able to retain their WORLD CUP title in two years. 

Not a mention of Italy. Why should the Azzurri be mentioned? They were just beaten to a pulp by the Spanish and would surely crawl under a rock to lick their wounds. How could we challenge in two years; I mean we didn't challenge on this day... did we?

"Poppycock" as my British friends would remark following an inaccurate comment being made. Unlike the millions and millions of people who pretended to watch yesterday's affair between Italy and Spain; I bore witness to something even greater than the comprehension of the over zealous bias media. I saw a match of two halves; I saw a few vital errors being made; I saw an Azzurri squad which came of age. 

The Match
Build-up to the match was nearly fever pitch. Following the Azzurri's disposal of Germany on Thursday; Prandelli and crew took the redeye and flew from Warsaw where their Semi-Final was held and arrived in the wee-hours to begin their preparations for the Final in Kiev.  Meanwhile the Spanish played their lacklustre Semifinal against the Portuguese on Wednesday evening and thus had three days to rest up; while the Azzurri, through no fault of their own enjoyed 1.5 days (0.5 due to transit) to rest up and prepare for the Finals. 

When the match got underway; there was the usual first couple of minute lapse by the Azzurri; however, as we began to gain composure for the final stage of this EURO championships; we began to apply pressure on the Spanish. There were a few missed opportunities early on; however Cassano and Balotelli would be able to retain possession nicely in the Spanish area. It was also evident that the Spanish would not be retaining possession like they had against Portugal and France; instead, unlike any other team in this tournament the Azzurri would take the game to the Spanish. The game had a very open feel and the Azzurri did look the better of the two. However, unlike any other match we've played at EURO 2012; it would be the Spanish who drew first blood. 

In the 14' minute Fanregas broke down the Azzurri's left side - beating Chiellini (turned left back for this match) around the outside - he sent in a precise cross which met the timely head of David Silva. With that the Azzurri were down a goal in the European Championship final. Until that point however, it was the Italians who had been pressing the Spanish defence; who like the Azzurri defence looked to concede many times during the match. The Spanish goal came on a counter attack; exposing the slow pace of our back line. The concerning part of this goal was how easily Chiellini was beaten around the outside by Fabregas. 

When the starting lineup was announced, I found it odd that Chiellini would have gotten the call ahead of Balzaretti. It seemed that for the duration of the tournament; Balzaretti was in peak form. He connected well with Cassano on the left side; was able to make impressive runs forward while tracking back to make timely challenges. Chiellini's one appearance in the Left Back role against Germany was one of our weaker points in an otherwise impressive display. For some reason Prandelli saw fit to sit Balzaretti in favour of the Juventus centre back for the finals. 

Another weakness was also apparent on that first goal; the partnership of Bonucci and Barzagli looked tenuous. In the Germany clash there were a few hair raising moments which were snuffed out effectively by either Buffon or a tracking back De Rossi; Bonucci and Barzagli both looked confused at times in that match; and oddly enough looked completely flatfooted against a highflying 5 foot nothing David Silva. 

The first goal would test the Azzurri brass and display to the World if they had the ability to fight back in the match. As the game got underway again; it was the Azzurri who would again take the game to Spain; half chances by Balotelli and Cassano were met with the confidence of Iker Casillas; the Azzurri looked impressive up top for the majority of the first half. However, in the 21' minute a telling situation unfolded at the back for the Azzurri. 

Giorgio Chiellini pulled up with an injury; immediately putting an end to his run at EURO 2012. Despite my remarks from time to time; I usually give the benefit of the doubt to the training staff and manager when determining if a player is match fit. Based on Chiellini's composure during the entire tournament and the fact that on two occasions he needed to pull up with injuries; Prandelli would have been wise not to turn to the Juventus man in this match and instead turn to an inform Left Back instead. 

With Chiellini out, enter Balzaretti to help the Azzurri back line gain in composure. It was with this change the Italy experienced its best stretch in the match. We attacked; dominated possession, and penetrated the Spanish back line. We looked like Spain and Spain looked like Germany. It would only be a matter of time until we scored. However, seemingly out of nowhere Bonucci and Barzagli decided to help Jordi Alba elevate himself from understudy to hero. The run was great; the tracking by our centre backs was horrible! You could see this developing out of a clearance into a solid counter attack; yet both our centre backs looks helpless. This play did take place on Abate's side; however, there was little the Milan RB could do from his advanced position. Xavi sent a seething through ball to the feet of Alba, who out ran our boys at the back to score Spain's second goal. 

In a half where Italy dominated possession and looked pretty damn good at times; Spain walked out with a 2-0 edge. The second half began with Prandelli blowing my mind. If there was ever a moment to scratch you head this was surely it. Cassano did not appear on the pitch for the start of the second half. Instead Antonio Di Natale was now standing on the pitch barking instructions at his teammates. 

Here's my understanding, correct me if I'm wrong. Antonio Cassano is a second striker or (when in peak fitness) he can drop even further back and play as a link between midfield and attack. His job is to retain possession, move the ball forward, create plays or score. No one on this team holds onto the ball better than Cassano and only Pirlo can rival Cassano in playmaking ability. Di Natale on the other hand is more of a run and score type of player. Doesn't hold possession well, is often offside, can find the back of the net, but needs someone to dish him the ball. I'm at a lose to understand why this change would take place or would even be needed. If you're looking for someone who can do what Cassano does and has fresh legs, surely Giovinco or Diamanti would be the ideal swaps. 

This change did change the Azzurri's composure. We became unable to move the ball forward at the same rate as we did in the first half. This allowed the Spanish to come at us in frequent droves; testing out back line and over stretching De Rossi. Pirlo, also become impotent as Xavi and Iniesta both hounded the register. It became all too obvious we needed an injection into this match if we stood any chance of competing. With Diamanti warming up next to Thiago Motta; it became possible that hopefully Montolivo or Marchisio would be shelved for Diamanti - the hero against England. That did not happen. 

In the 57' minute Montolivo walked off the pitch for Motta. A substitution that was completely reactionary to the Spanish game. In the first half, we had taken the game to the Spanish; we held possession; yes, we conceded to goals on the counter attack; but that wasn't the fault of our attack as much as it was a fault of the centre backs who were unable to mark their men. Di Natale was brought on as a reaction to the Spanish lead; but rather than bolstering the attack; alla Mancini (who would put 4 strikers on the pitch to try and gain the result); Prandelli removed our engine and replaced him with another out and out striker. This meant that Balotelli would need to drop back and provide service rather than making his blistering runs splitting the defence. 

With Motta on the pitch in place of Montolivo, our midfield mobility was hindered further with a player charged to break up Spanish plays. Something which wasn't happening in the first half. For three minutes the Italian midfield looked to have calmed down, Motta was doing his part as disruptor in chief.  Then in a clash to regain possession, Thaigo Motta went down in a heap; grabbing his leg and in obvious discomfort. Out of the match would go Thiago Motta (in the 60th minute). Prandelli having used all of his subs would play a man down against the Spanish for the remainder of the match. The following 30 minutes can only be described as "defeated". We defended, we defended very deep. We lost our legs, we lost our motivation, we lost composure. Our spirit was broken, our dreams were broken. The Spanish onslaught began. It wasn't the Spanish who defeated us tonight, but rather we defeated ourselves tonight. Following the triumph over Germany many of us began to celebrate as though we won it... Not remembering EURO 2000, WORLD CUP 1994, ITALIA 90. We were champions before the coin was tossed for the FINAL of EURO 2012. 

On this night we ate humble pie. Our hearts were broken. I called for the immediate termination of Cesare Prandelli; the man who brought us this far. Exuberance had turned to one of the most humiliating defeats of our time. Whose to blame; we're all to blame. Del Bosque knew we would come out attacking. He knew we were the team of destiny. He defeated us not by resorting to the Spanish game, but taking a gamble. He knew his team wouldn't dominate possession in this match; instead he turned the table. He beat us at our game. He beat us by defending deep and countering on the fly. That's our game, and he schooled us with it. Once and then again in the fortieth minute. From there, Del Bosque took the night off and watched as we defeated ourselves. Three completely ridiculous substations, one mind-blowing injury and ultimately our poor fitness due to a heavy schedule over the last 8 days. 

Spain would win this match 4-0 with the last 10 minutes of the match exhibiting some of the most selfish, cocky football I have ever seen. Be mindful for how you act in victory as your actions will come back to haunt you. 

The headlines however would not grapple with the cocky cheeky attempts on goal by the Spanish. One in particular in injury time really got to me, with an arrogant back heel by Sergio Ramos in front of Buffon. A complete lack of respect for a WORLD CHAMPION Goalie and Captain of the Azzurri. Instead the media focused on a 21 years old, who was overcome with such emotion that he stormed off the pitch. Only to return to receive his medal. Mark my words, this 21 year old will not forget this night.

Thoughts Overall. 
I'm of the mind that Prandelli moulded this team with a lot of work and effort. I love the way this team plays and what Prandelli has done so far. He has resorted to a dream team up front which has dominated this tournament in every aspect. Let's not forget the Azzurri lead every nation in shots on goal. Prandelli, did lose the plot last night in Kiev. He made bad calls, beginning with the starting lineup and ending with his early substitutions. I'm sure he learned an incredibly humbling lesson. This defeat will mould us, like it did when we were bamboozled in the WORLD CUP FINALS in the 1970's by Brazil. 

The work done here mustn't be in vein. I am impressed by Prandelli's reaction to the match; although the result on paper was grotesque; today he came out and pleaded with the FIGC and all Italian teams to allow him more time with the Azzurri throughout the year. He wants to build something and his passion is going to drive this project forward. 

I believe he only has one real big lesson to learn from this entire tournament. He must be unwavering when it comes to his team. On the Azzurri there can be not a single untouchable. Each man must earn their spot. The Marchisio's and Montolivo's cannot be left untouched, they need to earn their spots. I'd argue that is even applicable to Buffon; but damn he had a fine tournament. 

I'm upbeat about Prandelli's insistence on youth; by his call to find a new Pirlo; and by his promise to call up younger players and continue to bring this project forward. 

Following this tournament, I am left with two questions. 
1. What the heck was Lippi thinking when he left Cassano home in 2010. The Cassano of this tournament; who nearly almost died in October was incredible. Imagine what Sampdoria's Cassano of 2010 would have done in that tournament. FOOLISH!

2. Imagine for a second. Had Zoff, Maldini, Lippi and Trapp been courageous enough to put together a team with the spirit of Prandelli's Azzurri; imagine what they could have done to the world. 


Where does this blog go from here. 
Not too long ago, I started this blog as a forum to continue the conversation that was abruptly concluded over at The World Cup Blog. Over the last month Paolo and I have enjoyed bringing you some posts to complement this tournament. With EURO 2012 now concluding, I have taken some time to see which direction we should steer this thing. 

At this moment, we are committed to taking you through to the WORLD CUP 2014 Qualifications and into the 2014 WORLD CUP. However, with time constraints in our every day lives; we need a few more people to step forward and help us produce content for you to enjoy. If you or someone you know is interested in writing exclusively about the Azzurri please send me an email at marcowcb@gmail.com. 

Your posts don't need to be as long as this one; you just need to have a passion for the Azzurri.

Paolo and I would like to thank you all for making this a fun tournament. Your support is always appreciated and I'm happy we have a place to vent our frustrations, dreams and aspirations for the Azzurri. This is a remarkable team and the single greatest national team on the planet. We'll be back at the WORLD CUP in 2014. In the meantime, let's enjoy the road to WORLD CUP 2014. 

FORZA ITALIA and FORZA AZZURRI




Sunday, July 1, 2012

GAME DAY (THE FINAL): ITALY vs SPAIN

Italy are one great performance away from a defining victory.

In two short years Cesare Prandelli has created a dynamic, honest, progressive football team. In the depth of our South African nightmare two summers ago, it did not seem possible. It takes a very special coach and personality, with a very strong vision and set of values to bend the national team to his will. Capello couldn't do it. Nor could Blanc. Quite simply, on the international stage, Prandelli is better.

Today comes the biggest game of his career. Rumours suggest he has no intention of reverting back to the 3-5-2 that he opened the tournament with. In every sense that felt like a confidence building exercise we no longer need. Prandelli is the tactical equal of Sausage Del Bosque and he need not tailor ITaly's game to Spain's.

The expected line-up is:

Buffon
Abate-Bonucci-Barzagli-Chiellini
Pirlo
De Rossi-Marchisio
Montolivo
Cassano-Balotelli

The only quibble from me is, for this particular game, I would opt for Balzaretti in place of Abate even out of position as a right-back. Balza Ballerina was phenomenal against Germany and is a much better defender/ tackler than Abate. But Abate's horse-power may prove decisive on the break and by now we should trust Prandelli to make the right call.

We need a big game from everyone. There's no point singling anyone out: the defence must be strong, the midfield clever and our strikers clinical.  Nothing short of everyone's a-game will see us defeat Spain.

We should all be proud of what this group have achieved so far. They have played attractive, courageous football with a sense of positive unity that has made them - for the first time in my lifetime - likable to fans who are not Italian!

Mister Prandelli, you have made a difference. You are tactically brilliant, completely sincere and have helped foster Italy's first ever international black icon in Mario Balotelli.Whatever the result tonight, you have made it count.

In every sense, you have pushed us forward. Bravo.



FORZA.