By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Editor
It was meant to be straightforward. It was anything but. There were chances galore as predicted, with the bar, the post and the top of the net all being struck. But whereas the Faroe Islands threatened time and again to wipe out Italy’s lead, the Azzurri limped home to move to within a step of the Euro 2012 finals.
In undoubtedly their poorest qualifying performance under Cesare Prandelli, La Nazionale sought inspiration but found none. The recent trend for fast starts – as most notably produced against Estonia in June and Spain last month – didn’t really come, despite Antonio Cassano’s 11th minute winner.
Thereafter, the white wall of eight defenders parked in front of them proved too difficult a barrier to breach. The displays of the likes of Riccardo Montolivo, Cassano and Domenico Criscito against the world champions in Bari were a distant memory, as instead it was Suni Olsen and Johann Edmundsson that shone.
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But this was nothing new for Italy. With no domestic football under the players’ belts – Criscito and Giuseppe Rossi apart – they were left in exactly the same position as they were in September 2006 after that summer’s Calciopoli trial. A sluggish draw with Lithuania preceded a 3-1 defeat in France which put them on the back foot in their Euro 2008 qualifying campaign.
That they dropped only two more points in the remainder of that group was testament to the world champions’ mental strength, and it is an attribute they will need to show again when hosting Slovenia on Tuesday in Florence.Last night, they lived on their nerves. With Cassano, Rossi and Andrea Pirlo in particular the type of players who thrive on finding and exploiting space, the Faroes left them nothing to work with. Only in bursts midway through either half did the home side stretch the play to show real adventure on the break, but when they did they were threatening.
The remainder of the game resembled a training match of attack versus defence, but on this occasion there was not the sharpness about the men with the ball that would have seen them succeed in their task. Spain’s adventure in Bari suited Prandelli’s men in the space that it left in behind, but the Faroes’ doughtiness did not.
They are unlikely to meet such a foe again before their World Cup campaign begins this time next year. With Slovenia, Serbia and Northern Ireland to come, they have three opponents who will look to get something more than a fleeting attack out of the game. And when finals time comes around, there will be 16 teams who will believe in themselves as an attacking force to a much greater degree than Brian Kerr’s side.
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Sure, they could have done better, but Italy did the job. They stand just 90 minutes away from the promised land of Poland and Ukraine. And with a whole season still to come in preparation, Prandelli will know that there are likely to be less awkward fixtures ahead in their quest for European glory.Follow Kris Voakes on