England vs. Italy: What Next for the Azzurri in Euro 2012?

After 120 minutes of action, and nine total penalties, Italy conquered England to progress to Euro 2012′s semifinals. In some ways, it was the dull cagey affair that everyone expected to see. In others, it was way more one-sided than most expected.

The game finished 0-0, with no goals and a modest nine shots on target from both teams. On the other hand,  Italy registered eight times as many shots on target as England, four times as many total shots (36 to 9) as England, and 68-percent possession to England’s 32-percent.

Simply put, any result other than a win for Italy would’ve been highly unfair on the Italians.

But now the question is…where to from here?

Mario Balotelli sees another goal-scoring chance blocked by John Terry. Photo Credit: Associated Press

Italy got the job done, and dominated many of the stats, but their overall performance wasn’t that great. Despite recording a ridiculous 36 shots against England, they got only eight of those shots on target and converted none of them. That inaccuracy and inability to convert in front of goal will be easily punished by Germany.

Despite his effort and hustle, it’d be foolish for Italy to start Mario Balotelli again. The Italian striker has been off-form for all of Euro 2012, and Italy are lucky to have survived through his dry spell. He may have recorded five shots on target, but he had many more chances put on a platter for him by Andrea Pirlo, and he failed to convert a single one.

That kind of profligacy will surely be punished by Germany. Italy unfortunately don’t have many better options than the Manchester City hitman, but surely it could not hurt to give Antonio Di Natale another go as a starter. He likely won’t perform worse than Balotelli, and if he does prove ineffective, Balotelli can be brought on as a sub. Up to this point, Balotelli has proven himself to be a much more effective substitute than starter at Euro 2012 anyway.

The Atomic Ant, Sebastian Giovinco, is one of Italy’s rare creative attacking talents.

Next, Italy needs to start Sebastian Giovinco. As solid and respectable as Riccardo Montolivo’s performance was today, he is still a deep-lying playmaker, and his lack of attacking flair was plainly evident as all four of his shots failed to trouble Joe Hart. He excelled at passing the ball, but that wasn’t what Italy needed from their attacking midfielder; they needed another goal-threat, and Montolivo failed to be that threat as an attacking midfielder.

Many people fail to remember that Giovinco was once upon a time Italy’s brightest talent. He had a long, successful youth career, shining at the 2008 Toulon Tournament and especially the 2008 Olympics. Unfortunately, his club career failed to progress much at Juventus, as Juve’s coaches kept him as bit-part player behind the Bianconeri’s more experienced leaders.

Fast-forward two years with Parma though, and Giovinco has made excellent progress as a player. He recorded 15 goals and 11 assists for Parma last season, displaying both excellent finishing and excellent play-making skills as the team’s second striker.

Giovinco’s been given a total of 34 minutes over two games at Euro 2012, and that just isn’t enough for a player like him to make a real impact. Giovinco proved his skill and creativity this past season with Parma, and deserves the opportunity to show that same creativity with Italy.

Besides, Italy honestly don’t have any better options in the attacking creativity department. They need Giovinco if they are going to have any hope of beating Germany.

The formation really brought out Italy’s strong points against England.

Last but not least, Italy need to stick with their 4-3-1-2. Against England, the formation was very effective in allowing Italy to carry out it’s game plan. Ignazio Abate and Federico Balzaretti were both solid down the flanks; particularly Balzaretti, who made 85 passes with 95-percent pass accuracy, and added in five key passes and six crosses for good measure.

In the center of midfield, Andrea Pirlo was absolutely terrific. Italy’s best player completed 131 passes, eight crosses, and a whopping 30 (!) long balls, many of which were put on a platter for the likes of Balotelli, Antonio Cassano, and Montolivo. The strategy of utilizing Montolivo further up field to distract England’s defenders and defensive midfielder worked excellently as Pirlo repeatedly was given a great deal of space with which to run Italy’s offense.

In truth, the only weakness in Italy’s 4-3-1-2 was it strikers, who failed to score the numerous chances that the system created. Hopefully though, with the fixes mentioned above, Italy will be able to remedy its problems in front of goal.

 

Italy will most certainly go into their match with Germany as the underdogs. They have less time to recover, have a less talented squad with less depth, and their biggest talent, Mario Balotelli, is off-form. Yet, there is still hope. The two moves described above are two very bold ones—chances are that Cesare Prandelli will stick by what has gotten him this far.

However, if they are made, they will surely improve Italy’s slim chances of springing an upset. Giovinco and Di Natale are well-rested, and putting them into the lineup will make Italy’s offense a completely different animal to deal with.

It’s in Prandelli’s hands now. Italy have done well, and no one will fault them for losing to Germany, who everyone expected would at least reach the final of Euro 2012. But some bold moves could give Euro 2012 its first real upset, and complete an amazing turnaround for a Italy team which looked completely washed up at World Cup 2010. Italy have always been known to be a conservative team that wins their game through tough, gritty defense, but if they want to beat Germany, they’ll have to make some bold decisions regarding their offense.


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