After an abject performance at the 2010 World Cup, coupled with a disastrous first round exit, a change of manager was in order for the Italian’s with Cesare Prandelli replacing Marcello Lippi. The Italians seem to have been written off by many and are really coming into the tournament under the radar. By no means are the Italian’s first or second favourites, they are in fact sixth favourites to lift the trophy on July 1st.
In recent days, the Italian camp was rocked with yet another match fixing scandal with many high profile names being dragged into the investigation. Is it an omen for Italy though? Match fixing scandals have previously erupted before the 1982 World Cup, which Italy won and again before the 2006 World Cup, with the Calciopoli scandal, where Italy subsequently triumphed once again.
One could say the Azzurri’s path to Poland-Ukraine was an easy one having been pitted against Estonia, Serbia, Slovenia, Northern Ireland and Faroe Islands. Main challengers, Serbia were out of the equation after that fiery encounter in Genoa which was abandoned after six minutes following violent disturbances among fans. 8 wins and 2 draws saw the Italians qualify unbeaten with 26 points, 10 points ahead of 2nd placed Estonia – a stingy “typically Italian” defence conceded just two goals, while scoring 20.
With Domencio Criscito excluded from the final 23-man squad as a result of potential involvement in the match-fixing scandal. The squad saw Antonio Cassano included despite only returning to Seria A action a month ago following heart surgery earlier in the season. There does seem to a distinct lack of goals in this Italian squad, Di Natale (10), De Rossi (10), Pirlo (9), Cassano (9) before a huge gap to Giorgio Chiellini (2). An ageing Italian squad is nothing new, with an average age of this 23-man squad of 28-years old (27.9). The youngest two of that squad are Mario Balotelli (21) and ex-Chelsea man Fabio Borini (21), while the older is Morgan De Sanctis (35), followed by Gianluigi Buffon (34) and Antonio Di Natale (34).
Can you write Italy off? The short answer is no. Although, preparation for the tournament has been far from smooth not only with the match fixing scandal looming large, but that the Azzurri have lost three games on the bounce (first time since 1986) in the run up to the Euros, defeats against Uruguay, USA and Russia will certainly be cause for concern. Could it be 1996 and 2004 all over again and we see the Azzurri suffer a first round exit?
Fixtures: Italy vs. Spain (June, 10th), Italy vs. Croatia (June, 14th) and Italy vs. Ireland (June, 18th)