By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Writer
It is often said that the sign of a good team is the ability to play badly and still win, but Italy’s 3-1 World Cup qualifying victory against Armenia in Yerevan came with a huge sigh of relief following a massively underwhelming performance from Cesare Prandelli’s side.
Thanks to a goal and an assist each from Andrea Pirlo, Daniele De Rossi and Pablo Daniel Osvaldo – coincidentally the Azzurri’s three best outfielders on the night – Italy head into Tuesday’s clash with Denmark at San Siro with a two-point advantage in Group B. However, the fact that Gianluigi Buffon also deserves a mention in the list of star men owes a lot to the lacklustre performance by La Nazionale, and, worringly, speaks of a great number of question marks over the displays of centre-back pairing Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci.
|MATCH FACTS | Armenia 1-3 Italy
The Juventus duo were both a long way short of their best as Henrik Mkhitaryan gave them the kind of run-around he also delivered for Shakhtar Donetsk against the Bianconeri in the Champions League 10 days earlier, and with Yura Movsisyan’s movement causing havoc at the heart of the Italy back four, the visitors were lucky not to be at least two down before putting together the second-half rally which would eventually see them claim all three points.
While Bonucci has always been error-prone, this was a particularly ugly performance from the Bari alumnus, with a ridiculously heavy touch early on sending Armenia onto the attack and setting the tone for his evening. Seconds after Pirlo had given Italy the lead from the spot, he was booked for hauling down Mkhitaryan having been completely outdone for pace, and he followed that with several poor passes and moments of sheer idiocy as he laboured with and without the ball, allowing Armenia to win possession in key areas.
Barzagli was little better, with his continued inability to replicate his form of 2011-12 becoming of increasing concern. But for the moment he outstripped Roma’s Rodrigo Taddei to tee up Sebastian Giovinco in Juventus’ 4-1 Serie A win, he has regularly appeared a yard off the pace this term, and he was short of the mark in the same regard against Armenia. Add to that the fact that he was pulled out of position all too regularly, most notably when Davit Manoyan found himself unmarked in Barzagli’s vicinity, only to be foiled by Buffon, and one has to wonder how both Juve and Italy go about fixing these defensive woes.
Moments after Manoyan's crucial miss, De Rossi's excellent movement allowed him to head home from Pirlo's cross, before the Roma midfielder's free-kick was met by Osvaldo to give the Azzurri a margin they barely deserved. The result was secure, but there was little about Italy's defensive performance which could come under the same category.
With both centre-backs playing almost constantly, there is an argument that they need regular rest just as much as Bianconeri midfielders Pirlo and Arturo Vidal, but games are coming thick and fast, and both club and country need their centre-backs to find their form ahead of vital World Cup and Champions League fixtures to come.
Then again, if either continues to turn in performances like they did on Friday, they could just as easily be dropped as rested.