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The Roman is a midfielder by trade but he looked every inch a world-class centre-half in Gdansk, totally justifying Cesare Prandelli's decision to redeploy him at the back

 Mark Doyle
 Italy Expert Follow on

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As recent events in Italy have underlined, gambling can get you into all sorts of bother. However, that did not dissuade Azzurri boss Cesare Prandelli from taking a massive risk in his side's Euro 2012 opener against defending champions Spain on Sunday evening by fielding midfielder Daniele De Rossi at the heart of a three-man defence.

Happily for the former Fiorentina coach, the gamble paid off big time as the Roma ace turned in a man-of-the-match display which played a key role in Italy leaving Gdansk with a point few had thought them capable of after last week's embarrassing 3-0 friendly defeat by Russia.

Of course, Prandelli knew that he needed to change things after the defensive horror show in Zurich but his decision to switch to a 3-5-2 - a formation he'd never before utilised during his two-year tenure - was brave, while moving De Rossi into the backline was even bolder.

The 28-year-old Roman was, of course, occasionally utilised in defence by the Giallorossi last season but it was still an incredibly brave move by Prandelli to field a makeshift centre-half against the best international side in the world, particularly when one considers just how vulnerable and out-of-his-depth De Rossi looked during the 4-0 loss to Juventus in April.

DOMINANT DISPLAY
 PLAYER RATING | DANIELE DE ROSSI

 
A very combative performance in the heart of defence as the Azzurri shut out the reigning champions. His tackles were perhaps overzealous at times but he seemed to time them to perfection on every occasion.
That was a chastening experience for the player but one that he clearly learned from as he turned in a tremendously dogged yet disciplined performance against the Spanish.

He made several crucial interceptions, most notably inside the opening five minutes when Jordi Alba was threatening, as Italy restricted their opponents to very few openings in the first half. Only once during the opening 45 minutes did De Rossi switch off, when he allowed Andres Iniesta to drift away from him and was ultimately lucky to see the Barcelona man fire over.

He was unsettled by Fernando Torres' pace and movement in the final 20 minutes or so, as the Chelsea man made a mockery of Spain's rather helpful decision to start without a traditional No.9 but, for the most part, De Rossi was immense. Indeed, it would be a major surprise if he does not stay at centre-half for the remainder of the tournament, even when Andrea Barzagli is deemed fit to return to action.

Emanuele Giaccherini and Thiago Motta also justified their inclusions in the Azzurri's starting lineup, while Antonio Di Natale has given Prandelli a real selection headache by doing more in five minutes than Mario Balotelli had contributed in the previous hour.

He must now decide whether to persist with the Manchester City striker - who had shown encouraging signs of forming a good understanding with Antonio Cassano going into the game, but just looked like a liability during it - or go with Di Natale from the start against Croatia. What Prandelli must not do, though, is even consider taking Cassano off again, as Italy lost their momentum and principle attacking threat once he was replaced by Sebastian Giovinco against Spain.

That was a poor decision on Prandelli's part but he can be forgiven that. Not all gambles pay off, after all. But the De Rossi one did. And how!

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