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Italy's 1-0 win over Slovenia last night was the kind of professional performance that shows the Azzurri have come a long way in a short time.

Cesare Prandelli’s Italy side have one foot and most of their body weight already in the Euro 2012 finals after last night’s victory over Slovenia, and there is plenty more to shout about thanks to the Azzurri’s performance in Ljubljana. With only the chronic lack of a fantasista still to be addressed, there are increasingly more plus points coming out of the Nazionale camp just nine months after their painfully bad World Cup flop.

The latest display was notable for the positive showings of a number of key players. Gianluigi Buffon returned to competitive international football for the first time since the opening game of the World Cup and showed he still has what it takes, pulling off vital saves from Robert Koren and Zlatan Ljubljankic. And ahead of him a host of newer names gave the tifosi reasons to be cheerful.

It would be obvious to pick out match-winner Thiago Motta for special praise given his cool showing as the anchor in the centre of the park, a position he has grown into well for Inter despite not having the depth of passing which could otherwise make him a true all-round midfield player. But the real bonuses came in the full-back positions with the performances of Federico Balzaretti and particularly Christian Maggio.


Prandelli's full-back merry-go-round
Game right back left back
Ivory Coast

Lost 0-1


Motta

Molinaro
Estonia (a)

Won 2-1

Cassani

Molinaro
Faroe Islands (h)

Won 5-0

De Silvestri

Antonelli
Northern Ireland (a)

Drew 0-0

Cassani

Criscito
Serbia (h)

Abandoned

Zambrotta

Criscito
Romania

Drew 1-1

Santon

Balzaretti
Germany (a)

Drew 1-1

Cassani

Chiellini
Slovenia (a)

Won 1-0

Maggio

Balzaretti
The lack of top quality full-backs is something which blights many clubs around Italy, and it’s arguable that there are very few high class players left in the position in the modern game. The Azzurri have struggled as much as anyone in this department, with an astonishing 11 different players having started on either defensive flank in just eight games under Prandelli. But last night, alongside the solid Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, Maggio and Balzaretti turned in outings which suggest the national coach has more solutions than he previously realised.

Maggio was particularly impressive, reproducing his impressive form as a wing-back at Napoli to help give the Azzurri extra going forward outside of Alberto Aquilani on the right side of the field. Balzaretti was equally eager to get down the opposite flank, suggesting he could also get another call-up come Tuesday’s friendly against Ukraine.

In midfield Prandelli has a somewhat different selection headache, as Thiago Motta, Aquilani and Riccardo Montolivo all gave examples of what they can offer in the absences of Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi. But the unconvincing shift put in by Stefano Mauri in the trequartista role suggests that there is still work to be done.

If there was one area of the game in which Italy did not convince last night it was in their ability to link midfield with attack. Pirlo remains the creative force most suitable for such a position, but his poor fitness, advanced age and lack of games in the higher role may work against Prandelli. Antonio Cassano and Giampaolo Pazzini look like a duo that could do the business on the big stage, but only if they are catered for by a sufficient supply line.

So with much of the hard work now done in terms of qualification, the former Fiorentina boss still has one big question to ponder between now and June 2012. But 1-0 wins and Italy used to go hand in hand, and few will have ever been as expertly carried out as last night’s. Add in the continued evolution of Prandelli’s ‘new Azzurri’ and World Cup 2010 is but a distant memory, with next summer’s finals tournament something to look forward to.

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