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The pair again failed to step up to the mark against Uruguay at the Stadio Olimpico, and, with Euro 2012 just a few games away, other players must get the same opportunities

COMMENT
By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Editor

As a rule of thumb, international friendlies should not normally be judged on their result alone, but Uruguay’s 1-0 victory over Italy in Rome on Tuesday provided one of a number of areas of concern for Cesare Prandelli’s side. Another was the failure of two members of the starting XI to hit the form which would have justified their continued selection in Azzurri squads.

Riccardo Montolivo has been an ever-present for his country in 2011, yet his performances have not been reflective of the faith his coach has shown in him, and now they are reaching a level where something needs to be done – and fast. The Fiorentina midfielder has been struggling domestically following a fraught summer off the field, and, after performances over the close-season against Estonia and Spain, which suggested he was finally starting to hit his straps internationally, his form has dipped back down to his previous under-achieving level.

Though he certainly has the qualities to become a decent penetrative central midfielder, he is no trequartista by anyone’s definition. Prandelli has bewilderingly given him a long run in the position, though, and on Tuesday at the Olimpico, there came just another example of why he is completely unsuited for the role.

MONTOLIVO & RANOCCHIA'S RATINGS FOR ITALY IN 2011
MONTOLIVO
Match
Comp
RANOCCHIA
5.5
Germany (a) 1-1
Friendly 6.0
6.5
Slovenia (a) 1-0
Euros -
7.0
Ukraine (a) 2-0
Friendly -
7.5
Estonia (h) 3-0
Euros 6.0
6.0
Republic of Ireland (n) 0-2
Friendly -
7.5
Spain (h) 2-1
Friendly 6.0
5.5
Faroe Islands (a) 1-0
Euros 6.0
6.0
Slovenia (h) 1-0
Euros 6.0
4.0
Serbia (a) 1-1
Euros -
6.0 Northern Ireland (h) 3-0 Euros -
4.5 Poland (a) 2-0 Friendly 4.5
5.0 Uruguay (h) 0-1 Friendly 5.0
5.92   5.64

In a game in which Italy had a great deal of territory and possession, the final link between midfield and attack was often missing. Many of their better chances arrived from striker Mario Balotelli taking it upon himself to work at the heart of the Uruguay defence, and often from balls played to him and Pablo Daniel Osvaldo from wider positions. Montolivo’s effect on proceedings was minimal. Though this was a slightly improved display on his shameful showing in Poland on Friday, it was not up to the level the Azzurri will need in the Euro 2012 finals next summer.

And if a change is required in the forward department, then there also must be something done to cast aside one of Italy’s biggest under-performers at the back, too, after Andrea Ranocchia turned in another display which defied the lofty expectations many have of him.

MATCH FACTS | Italy 0-1 Uruguay

Shots
On Target
Possession
Territory
Corners
Yellow Cards
Red Cards
Italy
18
8
68%
53%
7
2
0
Uruguay
4
2
32%
47%
2
4
1
In only the third minute he made a crucial error. While it was Federico Balzaretti who allowed Martin Caceres to reach the byeline in the first place, Ranocchia was in a position, as the centre-back furthest from the ball, to judge the entire situation and to react. With Giorgio Chiellini pulling in to the near post, and forward Sebastian Fernandez having delayed a run in from the edge of the area, there was only one decision for the Inter defender to make.

But rather than step out and cover the pull-back to the striker, he followed Chiellini’s lead by continuing to head towards his own goal, meaning that Caceres’ well-placed pass left both centre-backs flat-footed and gave Fernandez the opening he needed to sweep the ball past Gianluigi Buffon. It was basic defending for a player of supposed international quality, but Ranocchia couldn’t fulfill the task.

Thereafter it was the regular Ranocchia display. Decent enough in the air when he wasn’t pulled out of position, but completely lacking in movement or authority, he failed to give Prandelli any reason to turn to him again. This season he has made less club appearances than he has for Italy, which is a startling statistic when you consider the coach’s stance on players who have not appeared for their clubs due to disciplinary issues. While that in itself is to be admired, should he be any more accepting of a player who simply hasn’t been good enough to even get a look-in at domestic level?

The futures of Montolivo and Ranocchia are not the only things Prandelli will be stewing over after the defeat at the Olimpico, as his side created 18 goalscoring opportunities, but failed to find the net. While goalkeeper Fernando Muslera was excellent for the visitors, it was the Azzurri’s inability to finish which let them down on the night. Osvaldo should be allowed time to adjust to the international game, as has been afforded to Alessandro Matri and particularly Giampaolo Pazzini before now, but, at the moment, he looks a step short.

But while results shouldn’t always be taken too seriously, Italy need to be able to show that they know how to win games in different situations. Dealt the blow of an early concession last night, they couldn’t peg back quality opposition. And given that the same situation could arise in Poland or Ukraine next June, it is certainly something for Prandelli to think about. He would do worse than to look for alternatives in two crucial positions while he’s at it.

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