Early Euro 2012 qualification shows Cesare Prandelli's Italy masterplan is coming together

There were some hairy moments for the Azzurri in Florence on Tuesday, but they came through to further bolster the coach's hopes of making a winning outfit of the national side
By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Editor

They toiled and they scrapped and they fought, but in the end Italy grabbed the goal and the three points that their performance against Slovenia had probably deserved. It was far from a reflection of their campaign as a whole, which has been negotiated with the minimum of fuss, but it was more proof that Cesare Prandelli’s Azzurri simply know how to win games when it counts.

Ukraine and Poland is now a reality. With two qualifying fixtures still to go, Prandelli has the luxury of 180 competitive minutes in which to fine-tune a squad not yet considered one of the favourites to triumph at Euro 2012, but who have made massive progress in the last 15 months.

The context in which Prandelli replaced previous coach Marcello Lippi does not need to be restated. La Nazionale were in an utter state, plain and simple. But the new boss immediately brought about a change of approach, a new thirst, and a fresh point of view.

ITALY'S EURO 2012 QUALIFYING | Group C Results

*Match abandoned after six months due to crowd trouble, 3-0 win awarded
Date Opponents h/a Result Scorers
 Sep 3, 10
Estonia a W 2-1
Cassano, Bonucci
 Sep 7, 10
Faroe Islands
h W 5-0
Gilardino, De Rossi, Cassano, Q'rella, Pirlo
 Oct 8, 10
Northern Ireland
a D 0-0
 Oct 12, 10
h W 3-0*
 Mar 25, 11
W 1-0
Thiago Motta
 Jun 3, 11
h W 3-0
Rossi, Cassano, Pazzini
 Sep 2, 11
Faroe Islands
W 1-0 Cassano
 Sep 6, 11
W 1-0 Pazzini

No longer is there a stubborn ‘I won’t pick him no matter what’ attitude such as the one employed by Lippi towards Antonio Cassano. That the AC Milan striker has top scored in the qualifying campaign so far is of secondary importance. The fact that Prandelli has been firm but fair – excluding those players suspended or excluded at club level, rather than by reputation – has meant a new-found respect being shown by the players.

And while there are still some concerns to be addressed – not least at centre-back and in the lack of pace across midfield – Prandelli has got many areas of his side working well.

It is well known that several top clubs and nations are suffering due to the lack of quality full-backs, and Italy has been no different. But now they have a reassuring band of four who are being entrusted with the roles. Christian Maggio and Domenico Criscito were excellent against Spain last month, but as soon as their form dropped against the Faroe Islands, Prandelli had no problem in calling up Mattia Cassani and Federico Balzaretti as replacements last night.


"Giampaolo Pazzini is showing signs of hitting form in the Azzurri shirt for the first time."
Further forward, Antonio Cassano and Giuseppe Rossi have linked together well, and the early signs are there that a switch to a 4-3-3 could bring the best out of them for their country while also ending the experiment of the oft-laboured Riccardo Montolivo as a trequartista.

The great thing is that there are many options available. With Giampaolo Pazzini showing signs of hitting form in the Azzurri shirt for the first time, and the likes of Mario Balotelli, Alberto Gilardino, Fabio Quagliarella and Alessandro Matri all on standby, there is no shortage of options up top.

But it’s not just in personnel that the national side has improved since the Lippi days. There has been a completely new approach too, with victories being gained from all manner of positions. A recent new trend for starting fast out of the blocks has resulted in victories over Estonia, Spain and the Faroe Islands, while both wins against Slovenia came after wearing down the opposition and striking late. There was even a come from behind success on the opening night away to Estonia after Salvatore Sirigu’s error had seen them concede, something they have not experienced in the last 605 minutes of competitive play.

Next month they head to the empty stands in Serbia with the pressure off, but with the countdown ticking. Now that the tickets have been booked for the finals, Prandelli has a whole season in which to iron out the last few creases. Make no mistake, Italy are getting closer and closer to being a complete unit; one which could pull up a few trees next summer. The New Azzurri are on the move.

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