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Republic of Ireland produced a surprise 2-0 win over the Azzurri, but it could be to the benefit of Italian coach as he looks to reshape his team for next summer

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By Kris Voakes

It’s not that Italians were getting carried away with their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign successes so far, because they weren’t.

But last night’s 2-0 friendly defeat to the Republic of Ireland in Liege did Azzurri coach Cesare Prandelli and his side a massive favour in their preparations for the tournament a year from now.

And who was behind the lesson as they were out-Italied? None other than Giovanni Trapattoni.

Ireland’s superb defensive display saw off Italy’s assault with very few real scares to speak of along the way. It was a result built on the training ground and carried out to the letter.

With both squads having been freshened up following weekend Euro wins, this was a game of shapes rather than faces as ‘Il Trap’ set his side up perfectly to counter the Azzurri’s narrow 4-3-1-2 formation.

With his two central midfielders Kevin Foley and Keith Andrews detailed to do little more than screen the back four, and wide men Seamus Coleman and Stephen Hunt spending much of the time tucking in to provide extra support, a very solid core was designed against Italy’s width-free setup.

And when it came to crosses from wide, the defensive pillars of Sean St Ledger and Darren O’Dea were up to the task in the air. It wasn’t just a gameplan which exposed the Azzurri, it was also one which highlighted the flaws in Prandelli’s preferred system.

PRANDELLI'S POSSIBILITIES | How the Italy boss could change it up
4-4-2
4-2-3-1
Buffon
Cassani - Bonucci - Chiellini - Balzaretti
Maggio - De Rossi - Pirlo - Giovinco
Rossi - Cassano

Buffon
Cassani - Bonucci - Chiellini - Balzaretti
De Rossi - Pirlo
Rossi - Cassano - Giovinco
Pazzini/Matri
4-3-3
3-5-2
Buffon
Cassani - Bonucci - Chiellini - Balzaretti
Aquilani - Pirlo - De Rossi
Giovinco - Rossi - Cassano
Buffon
Ranocchia - Bonucci - Chiellini
Maggio - Aquilani - Pirlo - De Rossi - Balzaretti
Rossi - Pazzini/Matri

Playing without wingers puts extra pressure on your full-backs to be able to deliver a killer ball into the box and requires your centre-forwards and attacking midfielders to make the perfect run onto the end of it.

But this is not exactly playing to the percentages, especially when a side trails and the opposition are content to remain tight and protect their back four as well as Ireland did last night.

There was nobody in a white shirt with the ability nor the inclination to stretch Trapattoni's side with pace and guile, no one looking to force holes between the compact unit their countryman had built in front of them.

Few Serie A teams can boast a winger of any kind of calibre, and of the list of those who have played the wide role at all of late – Jimenez, Vargas, Santana, Krasic, Menez, Sanchez, Armero, Schelotto, Palladino – only the latter pair are Italian, and neither of those are of the standard required of an international regular.

This has forced Prandelli’s hand somewhat, particularly given how the 4-3-3 formation employed by his predecessor Marcello Lippi crashed and burned long before Italy even took off for South Africa last summer.

New formations need to be tested, and while their August friendly against Spain would tempt anyone to go with the familiar in the bid for a morale-boosting victory over the world champions, the Nazionale boss needs to keep his eyes on the prize.

Italian coaches – and Italian football in general – are known for their tactical ability, but the exact make-up of the Azzurri’s Plan B come Ukraine and Poland on June 8 next year may define Prandelli’s success or otherwise as an international trainer.

His Plan A has looked good when getting ahead in matches, but with the master’s outwitting of the apprentice last night came perhaps the most important moment in the ex-Fiorentina boss’ Italy spell so far.

Not only does he need to ensure that his squad is deep, they also need to be flexible. On Tuesday night they were not, and the wily old pro made them pay.

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