By Shikharr Chandra
There was all to play for in the final group game versus Brazil for the Italians even though both the sides had already qualified. What was at stake? A chance to avoid the reigning Euro and World champions Spain, a team that had put 10 past Tahiti, dominated Uruguay till the final whistle and their toughest test ended in a 3-0 win over African Champions Nigeria.
Touted as one of the favourites for the tournament, Cesare Prandelli's men have not shown the same zeal and desire as many had expected them to after their showing at the Euro 2012. Considered to have one of the finest defense in the world, Italy have shipped in 8 goals in their three games and had to rely on a late Giovinco strike to earn them 3 valuable points over Japan.
Stepping up against the home side Brazil, Italy were without the suspended De Rossi and Andrea Pirlo, arguably the Azzurri' finest midfielders for the most part of the last decade. Prandelli introduced a midfield of Alberto Aquilani, Claudio Marchisio and Ricardo Montolivo. Although the midfield's quality was never in contention given their excellent performance for their respective clubs, Brazil' domination for most part of the game showed how much Italy suffered without their two most influential players on the pitch.
"Brazil's fourth goal came when we were pressing forward attempting to equalize, so that's nothing to worry about,'' Prandelli was quick to defend his side' 4-2 loss saying that the Azzurri at least deserved a draw for their performance. It would not be fair on Brazil to say that Italy deserved a draw seeing the way the Selecao dominated both possession and chances throughout the 90 minutes.
Prandelli' decision to start with Montolivo in the absence of Pirlo did not work out well after the Milan midfielder was substituted in the 26th minute after suffering an injury. Substitute Emanuele Giaccherini played a part in the brief comeback for the Italians hower it was the brilliance of Neymar and Fred which handed Brazil the three points.
The Italians now face Spain in the semi-finals, a side who has just conceded once in this tournament and last conceded a goal in the knockout round of a major competition in the previous edition of the Confederations Cup in 2009. While Spain have the luxury of playing their second string side and still winning 10-0, Italy don't have as much depth as their counterparts.
Prandelli faces another dilemma which goes by the name of Stephan El Shaarawy. The Milan youngster's dip in form lately followed by a foot injury hasn't helped Prandelli in selecting his best XI. With Super Mario out for the rest of the tournament due to a thigh injury, he now has to rely on his AC Milan team mate against a miserly Spanish defense. Other options could be Alberto Gilardino and Sebastian Giovinco.
The Italians boast one of the finest midfield's in world football but they have been outplayed and over-run in that position during this competition. Furthermore, Buffon's performances have been questionable as well.
Prandelli will welcome back De Rossi against Spain but their talisman Andrea Pirlo' fitness still remains a doubt. Meanwhile both Montilivio and Abate are set to miss the game due to injuries suffered against Brazil.
Spain on the other hand do not have any major issues to worry about as Fernando Torres continues his good scoring run in international tournaments with David Villa and Soldado chipping in with goals as well, a luxury Italy cannot afford.
Prandelli knows if his side has any chance to hold the world champions he not only needs a world class performance from his players but he himself needs to get his decisions right. The Azzurri are clearly fatigued and have had trouble adjusting to the South American heat as they face their biggest test of the tournament. With the World Cup in 12 months time Prandelli needs to find the right balance in order to compete against the world's best.
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