Italy Campioni di Europa ?? (1 Viewer)

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Senior Member
Jul 13, 2002
Campioni di Europa?

There is absolutely no reason why Italy cannot win next year's European Championships.

This may catch some by surprise in the wake of the Azzuri showing in last year's World Cup, even though too many people preferred to overlook the side's shortcomings, choosing instead to blame the ref.

Ecuadorian Byron Moreno, by the way, despite announcing his retirement last week from the appropriately named Quito, is coming back to Italy in a few days to officiate a local amateur tournament. Look out for more of the same treatment - a hail of rotten eggs and vegetables - that greeted his last visit as an Official (paid) Guest at the Cento Carnival in February.

While the most resentful of Italian media and fans were still targeting Moreno as the root of all evil, others were trying to rationalise how a country with so many talented footballers could fall flat on its face on the world's biggest stage.

Giovanni Trapattoni's stint at the helm of the national team seemed destined to end after Korea-Japan, but the Italian FA kept its poise and refused to terminate his contract, while other coaches' names were being bandied about, apparently in the belief that our version of 'The Impossible Job' could be done better by someone else.

This has been the problem with Italy (and England, and Germany, and many others, for that matter): win, and you get canonized and loved forever, witness 1982 World Cup winning coach Enzo Bearzot, who did not do much before of after that event apart from an exciting 1978 campaign; lose, and everything else you've done in your life receives is belittled, as happened to Cesare Maldini after 1998.

Trapattoni's job was saved but public scrutiny was bound to hit hard soon. And when Italy lost in Cardiff last autumn doubts about Trap's ability to get results surfaced again. Now, after five consecutive wins in friendlies and Euro 2004 qualifiers, optimism is back. Naturally though it has been sparked by the same inconsistent judgment that turns ugly in troubled times: if a patched up Italy loses a friendly against a 'nondescript' country, in comes excessive criticism, so does, on the positive front, a win by a virtual 'B' team against a mediocre Northern Ireland side.

Much more satisfying was the 2-0 win in Finland which put Italy firmly in second place in the qualifying group, two points behind Wales, who have a game in hand. After the game in Helsinki, Trapattoni was so pumped up that he claimed Italy could still catch the Welsh, although he added that of course Wales have their destiny in their own hands and could visit Italy on September 6 with a five-point lead in the group.

Is there a realistic basis to Trapattoni's renewed confidence? Yes - if you consider the names at his disposal when everyone is fully fit. In the Finland game, he more or less fielded his preferred XI, although in an ideal world Christian Vieri would be playing as lone striker up front, Mauro German Camoranesi would perhaps be on the right and Milan folk-hero Gennarino Gattuso would run riot in the middle of the park.

Trapattoni went against his famously cautious approach and chose to use Lazio striker Bernardo Corradi up front, supported by Del Piero, Totti and Fiore playing behind him, with Perrotta and Cristiano Zanetti as holding midfielders and a back four of - from left to right - Zambrotta, Cannavaro, Nesta and Panucci.

It is the now fashionable 4-2-3-1 set up that some Serie A teams use - Empoli among them as a variation of their basic style - and is sometimes referred to as the 'Real Madrid' style, although a strong case could be made for the fact that Italy played parts of last year's World Cup with a similar formation, especially in the ill-fated South Korea game.

The three men playing behind the lone striker can of course be very different in style: by choosing to go with Del Piero and Totti, with Fiore kept to a more withdrawn role, Trapattoni basically chose to play with three potential game-winners and was rewarded when Totti and Del Piero scored quality goals.

Ironically enough, Italy had been under siege for most of the first half as a result of Trapattoni's decision to leave two men only in front of the defence, and Totti's goal had come against the run of play, but this - perhaps perversely - is another reason for the renewed optimism.

It shows that having quality players, and being able to actually use them in a real game instead of reviewing their sick notes, can make you go a long way. And it seems Trap has already made up his mind about his attacking options.

Pippo Inzaghi may have played his last game for Italy, as his style does not fit the current 4-2-3-1 set-up, Vieri and Corradi may juggle the assignment of playing up front while the only doubt could be about Del Piero, whose unfortunate reputation as a "choker" in big games, further enhanced by his passive display in the Champions League Final, might raise some questions in games when his goalscoring contribution falters.

But would you rather have Del Piero in or out of the side? Another big contributor has been Zambrotta, whose evolution from right-sided midfielder to left-sided defender-cum-winger is now complete.

After being arguably Juventus' most dangerous player for most part of the Champions League Final, Zambrotta backed up his reputation with a magnificent, energetic performance in Helsinki, where he popped up everywhere and started the sequence of passes which led to Del Piero's goal.

Despite Paolo Maldini's retirement from international football, the defence seems to be back in shape after criticism during the World Cup and up to the Wales defeat, when Trapattoni said 'some players were still settling in at their new clubs and were uncomfortable', an obvious reference to Nesta and Cannavaro.

The latter gained his 70th cap in the Finland game but could face demotion soon: his performances for Inter were not of the expected quality - a common trait for anyone who dons the black-and-blue striped shirt, apparently - and impressive former Chievo central defender Nicola Legrottaglie could displace him. If Legrottaglie adds to a growing reputation with his new club Juve in the Champions League, Trap will have a hard time leaving him out.

With every player available, a willingness to hold on to the current tactical set-up and Totti, perhaps at his peak, becoming a more and more influential and confident leader, Trapattoni could still end his Italy career with a memorable success.

The return match against Wales will tell us more

Buy on
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