The opening 55 minutes of Italy's Confederations Cup baptism against the United States was just how everyone had predicted when coach Marcello Lippi first named his tournament squad. Indeed, having been a harsh critic myself, at around 2145 CET I already had a ‘told-you-so’ post-match debate sketched out in my mind.
Italy were losing 1-0 to a very ordinary United States team. The opposition had been reduced to ten men after half-an-hour when Ricardo Clark was harshly red-carded. 'Dozy' Altidore and Michael Bradley had both fluffed one-on-ones, while Italy had only created one serious chance in the first half, and this arrived off a set-piece when Nicola Legrottaglie headed wide from an Andrea Pirlo free-kick.
There were so many things wrong about Italy. The world champions looked old, slow and predictable, with seven of their starting XI over the age of 30. The 4-3-3 formation was again a disaster, with Vincenzo Iaquinta struggling horribly in an unusual outside-left position, and the ever-average Alberto Gilardino being schooled by the man-mountain Oguchi Onyewu.
There was no flexibility in the centre of the park, as Lippi fielded three central midfielders with very little lateral, or instinctive, forward movement. Rino Gattuso and Mauro Camoranesi had barely played all season due to injury, and their lack of match sharpness was evident. Why had they started?
Then, on 56 minutes, Giuseppe Rossi was summoned from the bench (along with Riccardo Montolivo). All of a sudden, Italy were a completely different team. Within a couple of minutes, the scores were level, as the Villarreal starlet won the ball in midfield, strode forward and unleashed a 30-yard thunderbolt into the top corner.
Whether under instruction or not, Italy were no longer playing a 4-3-3. Rossi was dropping into the hole, in a 4-3-1-2, and the US defence could not get near him. This was the real Italy. For the remainder of the game the Azzurri were completely dominant, as they created countless openings, running out 3-1 winners thanks to further strikes from De Rossi and Rossi again. The latter was at the hub of most of the good work, but even fellow substitute Montolivo was surprisingly impressive.
The Fiorentina man has had a very poor start to his international career, with many questioning whether he has the mental bottle for this level of football, but the midfield harmony was so much sweeter after he replaced Gattuso. Montolivo and Rossi provided a link between midfield and attack that is always absent whenever Lippi plays that horrendous 4-3-3 system. Seriously, the 4-3-3 has to go.
Everyone will also remember how much improved Italy were in the second half when they lost 2-0 to Brazil in a February friendly in London. Just like last night, La Nazionale upped their game when Lippi switched from a 4-3-3 to a 4-3-1-2, with substitute Giuseppe Rossi again a key catalyst.
Aside from formation, there are many other lessons that Lippi will hopefully learn from yesterday’s win. The age of the team needs to be cut considerably. When a 22-year-old Rossi and 24-year-old Montolivo replaced a 32-year-old Camoranesi and 31-year-old Gattuso, Italy had so much more energy about them.
Experience is vital of course, and there are still serious long-term question marks about Montolivo, but seven players over the age of 30 is unacceptable. Especially when you consider that Italy are preparing for a World Cup, and that in a year's time, Gattuso will be 32, Camoranesi 33, Zambrotta 33, Toni 87, and so on.
It is for this reason that Lippi lost a huge opportunity at the Confederations Cup. This competition should have been used to blood youngsters, in order to get them educated for what really counts. We saw at Euro 2008 the dangers of taking a hugely gifted youngster like Alberto Aquilani who had limited experience at international level. The Roma star only had five caps before Austria and Switzerland, and when he was thrown into the deep end during the quarter-final clash with Spain, he froze on the big occasion.
Assuming that the likes of Marco Motta, Claudio Marchisio, Sebastian Giovinco and Mario Balotelli are integrated into the senior set-up after the Euro Under-21 Championships end, these starlets cannot be expected to just arrive at the World Cup in 2010 and turn it on immediately. The same can be said for the likes of Gaetano D'Agostino and Giampaolo Pazzini, who deserved a place in the squad.
As for other personnel, it is very questionable whether Nicola Legrottaglie is good enough to marshal an Italian backline. Faith can only take you so far, and based on last night’s evidence, the born-again Christian will struggle against top-class opponents. With so few quality alternatives to Giorgio Chiellini and Fabio Cannavaro, once again, surely it would have been wise to test out promising Azzurrini like Salvatore Bocchetti and Domenico Criscito. Anything less than Gold at the Euros should see Pierluigi Casiraghi sacked, as the strength of his squad is truly frightening thanks to Lippi's good-will.
Despite a delightful final 35 minutes against the USA, many will argue that not too much should be read into Italy’s win. The game was conditioned after Clark’s early red card, and Bob Bradley’s men clearly tired after half-time. We should learn more about Lippi’s Azzurri on Thursday against Egypt, who were hugely impressive against Brazil, and perhaps possess a slick pass-and-move game that could trouble an older Italy side.
Nevertheless, if Lippi starts with Rossi against The Pharaohs, ditches the 4-3-3 for a 4-3-1-2, and lowers the average age of the starting XI, Italy should be expected to go into the final group game against Brazil on Sunday with six points to their name.
What was your view on yesterday’s game? Did the 3-1 win prove that Lippi must scrap the 4-3-3 for a 4-3-1-2, and that he must play more youngsters? What about Giuseppe Rossi’s performance? Goal.com wants to know what YOU think…
Carlo Garganese, Goal.com