Could Italy win their first European Championship since 1968? Ciaran Bonass takes a look at the betting markets.
A nation never lacking in self-confidence who indulge in the mentality that if you’ve got it, flaunt it, Italians are as proud of their football team as their sense of style, but the group of players they’ll bring to this summer’s European Championships really don’t look to have an awful lot to flaunt despite the enticing 14/1 available on an Azzurri triumph.
While Giovanni Trapattoni continues to divide opinion as a result of the negative approach Ireland have adopted during his reign, the Italian’s constrictive approach is par for the course in his homeland where clean sheets are as sought after as a glut of goals and ‘the beautiful game’ is an afterthought to the pragmatic viewpoint that if you don’t concede many, you won’t lose very often. This is nothing new, we are, after all, talking about the country which introduced Catenaccio, or bolted door, defending to the world – although it was Heleno Herrera, an Argentine, who implemented the tactic most effectively, history fans. The difference this time around is that the means are entirely justified, much the same as in Ireland’s case, by a frankly amazing shortage of attacking talent for a country with four World Cup titles to their name.
Italy romped home in a distinctly average qualifying group which saw a distinctly below average Estonia finish second ahead of a oddly out of sorts Serbia in third, conceding only two goals in the process and making them comfortably the most miserly defence of any in qualifying. So far, so predictable, but the notable thing regarding the Italian qualifying campaign was their reliance on Antonio Cassano for goals, the AC Milan attacker was often ignored by national management in the past but hit six in ten appearances while Giampaolo Pazzini, with two, was the only other player to score more than one in qualifiers. That would be a glaring statistic in itself but it is compounded by the potentially career-threatening heart condition which Cassano was found to be suffering from in November and would appear, barring a truly miraculous turnaround, to have ruled him out of the tournament.
Cassano’s absence, in conjunction with the cruciate knee ligament injury suffered by Giusseppe Rossi which will make it extremely difficult for the Villarreal striker to recover in time to take his seat on the plane to Poland, has left Italy boss Cesare Prandelli looking particularly bereft of real firepower and his alternative options are limited. Mario Balotelli is an explosive talent in just about every possible sense of the word but somebody who can’t be trusted to procure the contents of their mother’s shopping list is unlikely to be entrusted with implementing a rigid gameplan for any manager, never mind an Italian one, and Prandelli’s exclusion of the Manchester City player from the squad for the 1-0 friendly loss to the USA in late February doesn’t bode well for the volatile hitman. Pazzini is likely to lead the line but he rarely starts for Inter Milan so will hardly arrive at the tournament full of confidence either.
Attacking has rarely been an Italian strength, but even a spine as solid as that given by Gianluigi Buffon in goal, Giorgio Chiellini at the heart of defence and Danielle De Rossi in midfield will need to offer a threat up front to make a real impact at Euro 2012 and it’s this crucial threat that Italy are sorely lacking and will cost them dearly.