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|EURO 2012 Analysis: Impressive Azzurri can improve further as Pirlo fails to fire & Cassano proves his worth|
The Azzurri were gallant in their draw with La Roja last night, and still have plenty of room to improve according to SoccerAnchor Chief Editor Adrian Del Monte...
Italy held the reigning World and European Champions Spain to a respectable 1-1 draw last night in Poland, in the opening match day of EURO 2012. To be fair, it was a game that could have been won by either side on the night, with a number of opportunities falling both ways, however it wasn't to be as the two heavyweights shared the spoils.
So much was made of the Azzurri's preparation in the lead up to EURO 2012, with match fixing scandals, off-field incidents and natural disasters hampering their build up. However an inspired line-up, one that fielded a debutant in Emanuele Giaccherini, showed no signs of being affected from what had been a difficult fortnight against Spain.
Group C will be a very tightly contested group, as with Croatia and the Giovanni Trappattoni lead Republic of Ireland, any team is capable of winning on their day. And while the Azzurri will be disappointed with the fact that they blew a massive opportunity to pick up an unexpected victory against a striker-less Spanish outfit, there is still plenty of room to improve for the Italians.
The Italian master
Andrea Pirlo - the Italian master in midfield - was well below par last night against the reigning champions, and despite providing Antonio Di Natale with a glorious assist for Italy's one and only goal of the game, failed to have a significant impact on proceedings. Now although the Azzurri would have given everything for three points against La Roja on the opening match day, historically the nation are slow starters, so I suppose a poor showing by their star playmaker is actually a positive, considering the result.
In Italy's final international friendly prior to the 2012 finals, Pirlo was at the centre of everything and barely misplaced a single pass. The Azzurri were thrashed 3-0 by Russia, however they should have scored at least two or three of their own in the opening hour, as Pirlo was instrumental in setting up the likes of Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli, who failed to capitalise.
Despite being outplayed by Xavi and co. in the centre of the park last night, Pirlo is a world-class player, who will certainly bounce back from a rare quiet performance, meaning the Croats and Irish better look out. Having played alongside Thiago Motta and Juventus team-mate Claudio Marchisio, the trio formed a better understanding of each other's games, so expect a better showing by Pirlo against Croatia on Monday.
Welcome back Antonio
Undoubtedly the biggest story from an Italian perspective last night was the fine performance of AC Milan striker Antonio Cassano, a player who was expected to miss the tournament and potentially not ever play the game again, after suffering a stroke and undergoing heart surgery in November 2011.
The former Roma and Real Madrid man, who has never featured at a World Cup but seems to be the Azzurri's EURO specialist, was absolutely brilliant in attack all game, and his absence was definitely felt when Cesare Prandelli surprisingly decided to replace him in the second half with Sebastian Giovinco.
Cassano proved in this game that he must always start under Prandelli, as he provides the creative link between midfield and attack, which is absolutely imperative to Italy's chances of progressing further in the competition. While he may not be the fittest of international players in world football, Cassano has the composure and class to mix it with the very best, and lead his nation to glory in 2012.
Elsewhere much has been made of Cassano's former club team-mate Daniele De Rossi, and his incredible performance in the heart of defence for the Azzurri. While it was brilliant, do not expect the Roma midfielder to put in a shift as good as this one again in the tournament. However, his efforts did highlight that there is hope for a defence that has been considered one of the nation's weakest in the past 20 years.
Additionally, Mario Balotelli was a shadow of himself last night in Poland, perhaps with the big stage getting to him. At 21 years of age though, Prandelli may need to refine the youngster's role. Keep in mind that Super Mario also has plenty to offer when enjoying himself and playing at the top of his game, so don't write him off just yet.
All in all, a massive game awaits Italy on Monday against Croatia. Defeat will undo all of their good work, and make their chances of progression from Group C almost impossible. A positive performance is a must, and with Pirlo and Marchisio to improve, along with Cassano featuring for 90 minutes, the immediate future is bright for Prandelli's Azzurri.
What did you make of Italy's performance against Spain? Will they carry their form into the game against Croatia? Or was it a one off? Let us know what you think by leaving a comment below...