By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Writer
The cynics would have you believe that there is nothing to be gained from international friendlies, and a defeat in such a fixture often only adds further fuel to their fire. But Italy’s 2-1 reverse to France in Parma on Wednesday showed the viewing public that the Azzurri’s future is in very good hands, with head coach Cesare Prandelli now having a mountain of options available to him.
After reaching the Euro 2012 final in July, many were sceptical as to the national side’s ability to kick on and challenge again at the World Cup in Brazil, but the depth and flexibility which la Squadra Azzurra can now deploy is something very few nations can boast in modern football.
One of the main points raised by detractors following the 4-0 defeat to Spain in Kiev was Italy’s inability to count on Andrea Pirlo maintaining his form through to 2014, by which time he will be 35. When it was suggested that Marco Verratti could be used as an alternative, many immediately claimed that he would fall shy of the level of experience and composure needed at the top of the game.
|MATCH FACTS | Italy 1-2 France
He can certainly improve defensively, but then so can Pirlo, and while some will say he should have done better as Mathieu Valbuena equalised for les Bleus, he at least jockeyed the Frenchman into a position from which Andrea Barzagli should have phased out the danger rather than allow the Marseille attacker to turn back inside. And anyway, that will come in time for a 20-year-old who has the world at his feet and the luxury of learning his way at the top end of football.
Alongside him, Riccardo Montolivo showed that he is slowly developing after a tough start to his AC Milan career, with his deployment as part of the midfield three giving the Azzurri much more than when he starts as a trequartista. Further up, Antonio Candreva offered plenty of options to the right of a pseudo-4-3-3, which saw him drop slightly deeper than goalscorer Stephan El Shaarawy and target man Mario Balotelli to allow him a greater influence in the building of attacks.
The defeat forced Cesare Prandelli to defend his decision to mix things up a little, but no such conversation should be necessary after a fixture which showed the versatility la Nazionale now have. With 3-5-2, 4-3-1-2, 4-3-2-1, 4-1-4-1 and 4-3-3 formations all a possibility, there are also very diverse weapons available to the commissario tecnico.
Candreva’s flair, El Shaarawy’s explosiveness and Verratti’s direction can be added to the already lengthy list of attributes offered by the likes of Pirlo, Balotelli, Claudio Marchisio, Pablo Osvaldo, Sebastian Giovinco, Antonio Cassano et al in the attacking department. This gives Prandelli the ability to mix and match for each game depending on the opponents, conditions and variables in a way that few - if any - rival coaches have at their disposal.
So while some focus on the defeat in Parma, it may be more prudent to look at the wider picture and recognise that Italy are gradually becoming one of the most well-rounded national sides in the world game.