Balotelli and Marchisio let Italy down when it really counts

COMMENT: The Azzurri were sent packing after indiscipline had seen them lose two of their starters for the closing stages, while Luis Suarez proved the villain of the piece
By Kris Voakes in Brazil

There will be no Mario Balotelli in the Round of 16. Nor will Claudio Marchisio feature.

And, thanks to the indiscipline of those two, their Italy team-mates will be on the same flight home as them tonight after being knocked out at the group stage for a second successive World Cup.

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Luis Suarez's latest bite storm will dominate the aftermath of this contest, but the Liverpool man was largely a peripheral figure from a playing perspective as his Uruguay team-mates earned a 1-0 victory in Natal, a result which sends them through as Group D runners-up at the Italians’ expense. The Azzurri gave it a real go after falling behind to Diego Godin’s header, but by then they had been let down by two of their own.

Balotelli was replaced at half-time by Marco Parolo after picking up a booking which ruled him out of Italy’s next match for going up with his knees first when attempting to out-jump Alvaro Pereira. Either side of that, he turned in a performance high in sullenness and low in real quality.

Cesare Prandelli said of his striker post-match: “Balotelli can never understand when he’s calm and stressed. He needed to guarantee balance, but I replaced him because I was afraid we’d end up with 10 men.”

That Suarez had the best chance of the half despite Italy’s superior rate of possession said much about Prandelli’s men had failed to convert territory into chances. While Ciro Immobile worked hard, his more experienced strike partner had really fallen flat at the wrong moment.

It came as no surprise when he failed to re-emerge after the break, but with Italy practically left playing with six midfielders, they were set to sit in and brave the Uruguayan onslaught. If Prandelli had made the decision to take off his star striker to avoid losing a man, it only did half the job.

They were reduced to 10 men on 59 minutes after Marchisio’s clumsy studs-up challenge on Egidio Arevalo Rios. While the Juventus midfielder appeared not to mean to attack the leg of the Uruguayan, his dangerous tackle caught Arevalo just below the knee.

Marchisio is not the most gifted nor the cleverest tactical player in the world, but he does play with his heart 100 per cent of the time. However, that can sometimes lead him to become over-exuberant in the tackle, and this was a prime example of what can come of it. The challenge was so high it cleared his opponent’s shin guard, ensuring that Arevalo felt the full force of the collision.

The Italians argued his case to the referee, but they rightly got nowhere in their protestations.

Moments later, Suarez could have made Marchisio pay the ultimate price by sending Uruguay ahead, but a magnificent reaction save by Gianluigi Buffon diving low to his right kept the Azzurri in the box seat.

However, the Italy skipper had no response to Godin’s towering header which settled the match in the 81st minute after his Uruguayan counterpart had leapt high above a weak rearguard from a right-wing corner.

Prandelli took Italy to the Euro 2012 final just two short years ago, with the momentum they had gained having seemingly put them back on track after their ignominious exit from the last World Cup.

But the embarrassing defeat to Costa Rica, together with a loss which came more out of Italy’s inability to keep their heads at important moments, has led them right back to where they were this time four years ago.
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