The Azzurri coach has not been given an easy ride by his compatriots but after Thursday night's Euro 2012 semi-final success over Germany, he is the toast of the peninsulaCOMMENT
By Renato Maisini
Mario Balotelli’s goal, Gianluigi Buffon’s saves, Andrea Pirlo’s playmaking, Daniele De Rossi’s heart, Andrea Barzagli’s interventions, Federico Balzaretti’s drive. The handyman Claudio Marchisio, the revitalised Leonardo Bonucci, the magical Antonio Cassano. In short, if Italy has reached an unexpected final, the merit lies with the entire group, who have so far drawn the applause of all of Europe.
The principal protagonist in this particular success story, however, is Cesare Prandelli. The Azzurri coach sits on one of the most uncomfortable benches in the world, one effectively shared with 60 million other national team coaches. To err is unforgivable. Each choice is analysed with a magnifying glass and, historically speaking, the number of critics far outweighs the number of supporters.
"Prandelli has never risen to the provocation that rained down on him"
To criticise Cesare Prandelli would be absurd. Even when things were going well, though, the coach was overwhelmed by the inevitable wave of questioning. After a perfect qualifying campaign, Italy were ripped apart in their final warm-up game against Russia. 'They will not go far like this, they will return home immediately' thundered the usual 'optimists'. Prandelli was impeached: the formation, the squad selection, his man management of the group... he seemed to be doing nothing right.
Moreover, the preparations for the European Championship were made incredibly difficult by well-documented events over which Prandelli had no control. There was the police raid at Coverciano; the notice of investigation for Domenico Criscito; the accusations against Leonardo Bonucci and Gianluigi Buffon and so many, too many, words about it all.
Everyone believed that they were in sole possession of the absolute truth, but the tough decisions - those that had to be taken and not just talked about - were the responsibility of only one man - Prandelli.
The result: Criscito sent home; Bonucci taken to the Euros. And then the heavens opened up. 'A scandal'; 'Double standards' - those were just some of the accusations levelled at the coach who, with his usual savoir faire, has never risen to the provocation, never responded to the criticism that rained down on him day after day.
"Cassano and Balotelli have taken on the burden of the hopes of an entire nation"
The facts, however, are now as clear as day. Balzaretti was one of the best players on the pitch against the Republic of Ireland and England, Bonucci was almost perfect, Barzagli recovered in time to feature and proved decisive, Diamanti and Di Natale made precious contributions and De Rossi produced flawless performances as a centre-back.
And then there’s Cassano and Balotelli. The two men to whom he entrusted the attack following the loss of Giuseppe Rossi to injury have taken on the burden of carrying the hopes of an entire nation and inspired the Azzurri to a most unexpected final.
And slowly but surely, with each passing victory, the bandwagon on which Prandelli sat with just a few others at the start of the Euros began to fill up. It’s an Italian tradition, as we all well know. The wagon always starts empty and is subject to criticism of any kind, but then it becomes full to capacity after success.
So, whatever happens in the final, for conquering 60 million people almost singlehandedly, Prandelli has already won.
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