06 September 2006

Davvero siamo campioni del mondo?

France wishes they saw these azzurri on the pitch in July. If they had, they would be the ones calling themselves world champions today.

Italy looked like a completely different squad today in their 3-1 loss to France than when these teams last met. Roberto Donadoni's main change in the lineup were his strikers, but they were not the players who failed to perform.

World Cup Final - July 9Euro 2008 qualifier - Sept 6

Admittedly I was only able to watch from the 60th minute on (damn having to go to class!) but what I noticed most about Italy's play is that they were being absolutely dominated in the midfield. I am not pinning this on the midfielders per se, but any action that happened between the boxes regardless of which players were involved. When the azzurri had the ball they were stagnant, if they weren't being immediately tackled or having ugly passes deftly intercepted. When les bleus were on attack, they sliced through the midfield with no resistance, and the midfield and defense seemed to be constantly and frantically backpedaling.

With backfield support like that, it's no wonder that Cassano and Gilardino saw few chances. What opportunities they did have came from the few set pieces Italy was able to set up from free kicks, and a few desperate long ball quasi-crosses that were easily intercepted by the French defenders or plucked out of the air by the French keeper Coupet. Fabio Cannavaro did get an excellent chance to close the deficit to one goal in the 77th minute when he sent a driving header straight for the goal, but Coupet was in perfect position and was able to punch it away.

Where does today's poor performance leave Italy? For starters, they now have a five point deficit behind those teams which have recorded two victories in group B: Scotland and France. It also leaves them with a coaching conundrum. With an 0-2-1 record, how much longer will Donadoni stay? Despite the poor showing today, France is an extremely strong team and must still be treated as such. I think Donadoni will be given one more chance, at the October qualifying matches against Ukraine (Oct 7) and Georgria (Oct 11). If he cannot bring back at least 4—and preferably 6—points from those two matches, it is almost certain that he will be out of his job. On the other hand, we may find out tomorrow that he's been sacked already. Either way, the same pool of NT players will be there in October and they will have to perform at a level higher than what we've seen so far, regardless of who is leading them. If they do not, Europe might not even be seeing the campioni del mondo compete in 2008.

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