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After sharing the spoils with the Oranje, looks at the implications for the Azzurri’s preparations for South Africa 2010...

When Italy left the field following the 0-0 stalemate with The Netherlands on Saturday evening, there was certainly an air of negativity amongst the Azzurri faithful, as they continued to voice their demands for the inclusion of Antonio Cassano. One fan had earlier invaded the pitch with a Superman t-shirt that on the front and back read ‘Cassano In Nazionale’.

Despite the lack of goals, it wasn’t a performance to write off for Marcello Lippi’s men who finally understood what calibre of side they will be up against as they look to defend their world title in seven months time.

Having come up against far from world class opposition in their adequately navigated qualifying campaign, the Azzurri were given a real test of their metal against a side ranked third in the latest Fifa world rankings.

With a second half display full of fight and courage, La Nazionale tried incessantly to knock down the orange wall and thought they had done so when Giampaolo Pazzini knocked the ball into the net - albeit with his right hand.

Despite the strong show of emotion from the boys in blue, there was little indication of what starting XI the Italy coach will place his trust in when the Azzurri embark on their journey south early next summer.

As the Dutch train rolled into Pescara, Lippi set up his side well against an outfit that stormed through qualifying, demonstrating its muscle as one of the healthier sides on the European circuit.

After handing debut caps to Antonio Candreva and Davide Biondini, the Paul Newman lookalike showed his ability to integrate some new blood whilst re-discovering the balance in an Azzurri side that have looked far from concrete in recent months.

Candreva showed promise

Given the Oranje’s intense rhythm, however, Lippi’s men certainly suffered in conducting play as Andrea Pirlo was put under lock and key by Holland’s doubling up. As a consequence the Azzurri looked rushed going forward and the World Champions were forced to make a few too many errors up top which kept the scoreline dry.

Nevertheless, the Azzurri will certainly take heart from their improved showing at the back with Giorgio Chiellini showing his true potential as a rock alongside captain Fabio Cannavaro. The Juventus man gave the Dutch forwards plenty to think about as he hustled for possession all over the field.

Looking back at how Italy climbed to the summit of world football back in 2006, it is clear without a solid foundation the Azzurri are simply not in the comfort zone given the DNA of their make-up.

After watching his side re-discover some security at the back against top opposition Lippi was right to note the positive aspects despite the less than emphatic result. Underlining his pleasure at the Azzurri’s attitude against the Oranje, the tactician is pursuing his quest to reignite the group spirit amongst the squad, rather than looking to individual talent as a means of overcoming the opposition.

Given the test in Pescara was nothing more than an international friendly, it is still very dangerous to draw too many conclusions from Italy’s showing against the Dutch. Whilst the Azzurri may seem to have re-discovered their solid base, the arguments over the lack of fantasy going forward are undoubtedly set to continue.

With the coach still holding his cards close to his chest on who will provide the spark in attack in South Africa, he would be foolish not to expect further stick for his strong stance on the exclusion of Cassano from the Squadra Azzurra.

Judging the manner in which Italy stepped up their performance from their less than convincing showings against The Republic of Ireland and Cyprus in early October, the Azzurri faithful must be careful not to start a witch hunt against the World Cup winning coach.

Given the manner in which the world wrote off the Azzurri in the build up the Germany ’06, it would be foolish to underestimate Lippi and his boys in blue for a second time.

Stefano Federici,