World Cup: Second Teams

Second Teams: Italy

Editor’s note: This is the latest piece in PSP’s World Cup series, in which PSP’s writers and a few honored guests make the case for which team you should root for in the World Cup after the United States. Read the full series here.

Antoine Hoppenot gave points to France for their national anthem prowess. While it’s understandable the young attacker must support his home nation, I’m surprised his Princeton education did not force him to consider a team that may surpass France in this department.

Cast your view upon the tear-soaked cheeks of the world’s greatest goalkeeper, Gigi, as he bellows out these words from Inno di Mameli alongside his prideful Fratelli d’Italia and you will understand the Forza Azzurri:

Stringiamci a coorte, [Let us join in a cohort]
siam pronti alla morte. [We are ready to die]
Siam pronti alla morte, [We are ready to die]
l’Italia chiamò! Sì!  [Yes, Italy is calling!]

Also, the country is (sort of) responsible for the Italian roast pork sandwich and calcio storico.

Has Italy gone from overrated to underrated?

Italy is the 2nd most successful World Cup team next to Brazil. After the unexpected and shameful group stage exit of 2010, there is extra pressure on the Blues to excel. With an average age of 28 — over 50% of them with World Cup experience — Italy possesses a proper balance of youth and experience most contenders yearn for. The majority of the team has earned its minutes within the resurgent Serie A, and they are led by a master tactician in their Commissario tecnico, Cesare Prandelli. Buffon believes Italy should advance into the knockout rounds, saying, “From the quarterfinals onwards we can say it has been a good World Cup and a positive tournament.”

It is true that Italy hasn’t won in their last six games, but those have all been friendlies, which for Italy, means that no one cares. Truthfully, they enter this World Cup a step below Brazil, Spain, Germany and Argentina when you evaluate their talent objectively. Add in the fact that they are pitted against England, Uruguay and Costa Rica in what many consider to be the true Group of Death, and the odds may be stacked against the Italians.

Italy FAYet, underestimating them in major tournaments is a recipe for an early exit. They have always had a special knack for performing best when it counts most and have won the World Cup as recently as 2006, reached the Euro finals in 2012, and placed third in the Confederations cup in 2013.

The strength of the team runs through the middle with an all-Juventus backbone of Buffon, Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini, and the bearded wizard, Pirlo. At 35, the magical regista is still surprisingly fit and capable of producing moments of brilliance with his defense-splitting long range passing. Chiellini is not only a lock-down defender, but he has completed an impressive 93 percent of his passes this season in Serie A. It will be intriguing to see how the Italians deal with the likes of Suarez and Rooney.

While the Italians are the inventors of catenaccio, or “deadbolt” defensive organization, Prandelli has introduced a more positive style of football than we are used to seeing. It has the potential to be more entertaining, but it is still unclear just how he will deploy his team in Brazil. Bonucci provides Prandelli the option to play a 3-5-2 that would be very intriguing to the footballing geeks of the world. Bolstered by Abate and De Sciglio on the flanks, it appears the Italians are poised for lightning counterattacks.

Alongside Pirlo, Italy can field one of the best midfields on the planet with the likes of Marchisio, Motta and DeRossi. Their experience, tactical awareness and technical tidiness with the ball are all enviable. They have the ability to dictate the pace of the game to their choosing and can easily pick out the opposition’s weak points to exploit.

Up front of course is one of the most colorful players in the world, “Super” Mario Balotelli. While he has struggled recently with a faltering AC Milan, he remains a lethal striker who has proven himself on the biggest stages with both Manchester City and the Italian National Team. Despite his problems, he seems to have the confidence of Prandelli, saying, “On Balotelli, I have always said that in the national team he has never behaved outside the rules. He has played important matches, he has a very high goal average and I value him for what he has done and still does in an Azzurri shirt. He knows that the World Cup can be the opportunity of a lifetime for a footballer.”

If he can maintain his maturity, but somehow still allow the adrenaline of the Cup to boil his blood, he could assassinate the best ‘keepers he’ll face.

But why should you root for these guys?

Logical thinking aside, why should you really root for the Azzuri? For the drama! From stabbing Caesar on the steps of the Theater of Pompey to a blind opera singer in Andrea Bocelli, Italians have a zeal for the dramatic. On the pitch it’s no different. From the 1938 black shirts giving the fascist salute, to Ferrini needing to be escorted off by police in ’62’s “Battle of Santiago,” to the iconic Marco Tardelli goal celebration of ’82, to an injured Baggio missing his penalty in the ’94 final, to inciting Zidane’s infamous headbutt in ’06, the Italians have a high probability of producing some memorable moments in the 2014 Cup. Already, in the last few days we have seen the shocking scratch of New Jersey native Giuseppe Rossi and the heartbreak of a broken leg suffered by Riccardo Montolivo during the warmup game against Ireland.

The music has begun. The deeper their run in the tournament goes, the higher the tenor and tempo of the opera becomes. But how will the show conclude? Whether it be a triumphant victory march or solemn tragic lamentation, the Azzuri will surely entertain.

5 Comments

  1. Divers and floppers. No thank you.

  2. The Black Hand says:

    The Italians play a very smart game and always find themselves in the thick of it. They are one of the ones that play “the beautiful game”. De Rossi, Buffon and Pirlo are some of the best that the game has ever seen. Balotelli, love him or hate him, is one of the most talented, young strikers on the planet. HATE THOSE GUYS!!!
    .
    Rossi’s exclusion from the club made me smile. I get that he is a talented player and SHOULD want to be a member of an elite national team. BUT, we could really use a player like that. He would have been one of the greatest players to wear the our crest. Now he will be watching from some Riviera with models…dick!

  3. Not a fan of Italy, but you have to respect the way they play the game. However, by cutting Rossi it does make it a bit easier to root for them.

  4. Tactical geniuses. I watched the warm up game against Ireland, which by the way was a very entertaining game, and was truly impressed. A bunch of young men moving around the pitch with total discipline, plan and understanding. Their spacing was amazing on offense and just proves that the azzurri are light years ahead in understanding of how to play the game. We’re letting the game just be the teacher here at 9 years old and the youth development of the elite european nations are teaching the science of football to the kids so when they grow up it is completely mastered— then they get to play the art of football.

  5. It started for me in ’94, when Baggio shanked that penalty kick and turned my Sicilian grandfather into a walking stormcloud. Only a shirtless feast of grandma’s spaghetti and crabs could lift him out of it. Been an Azzurri supporter ever since, though they’ll always be second in my heart to the USMNT. This team is exciting and certainly underrated – watch out for Immobile and Balotelli – and I don’t even have to explain what Pirlo can do.

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