A boring Italy tamed lamblike English lions.
First match for Italy and England in group A of the 2013 Under 21 European football championship after the 2-2 tie between Norway and home team Israel earlier in the evening and victory for the Italians after a one sided game.
England was too cautious to be true and since the 4-2-3-1 has been “legalized” in Premier League, now the National teams can do the same: there is no more need to hide the intention of playing the stereotypical long ball towards the only striker, while with the good old 4-4-2 they could at least pretend to have a second “fake” forward.
Hard to understand and unrecognizable this England, as seen playing live during the qualification round and losing in Belgium, it seems to be playing without determination and accepting the defeat without fighting which I would never expect from a team coached by charismatic Stuart Pierce.
Even the last confusing ten minutes played trying to tie the game didn’t leave a good impression and mostly left me with the idea of powerlessness. Too defeatist this England to scare Italy.
There are high expectations back in Italy for this U21 team which has one of the best offensive potential ever seen in history at the same time for what’s usually considered a defensive oriented football nation; coach Mangia brought with him for the trip Insigne, Immobile, Borini, Bertolacci, Saponara, Sansone, Gabbiadini, Destro and Paloschi! The rest of the team can also count on talented players such as midfielders Verratti, Florenzi, Marrone, defenders Caldirola and Capuano and goalkeeper Bardi.
Sadly despite the hopes of the supporters and numerous experiments during the qualification round and friendly matches, Italy began the match with an almost classic 4-4-2 with Insigne wide on the left midfield, Immobile and Borini as the starting offensive couple. The directions were to set up in a line of four and a line of three when defending with Florenzi, Marrone and Verratti in front of the defensive row with Donati, Bianchetti, Caldirola and Biraghi in front of goalkeeper Bardi.
60% of ball possession in the first half which ended 0-0 gives the idea of Italy trying to set up plays but too sterile and incapacitated to break England’s wall because of a defensive tactic chosen by coach Mangia and the absence on the field of players able to create football like Bertolacci and Saponara even though the last one joined the team late as he was busy until Sunday with Empoli in the last Serie B playoff game against Livorno. Too slow the pace and no ideas.
The first half ended with Italy complaining for a clear penalty not awarded but the second half began with an aggressive England that unfortunately only lasted five minutes,enough to score the typical “carom goal” off a corner kick which got disallowed for an uncertain reason.
Italy’s goals came off a free kick, executed perfectly by their best player this evening, Lorenzo Insigne, and probably that was the only way that Italy could have scored tonight.
Coach Mangia’s substitutions of Gabbiadini for Immobile and Destro for Borini right before the goal didn’t change the tactic and left everyone doubtful.
I thought and hoped that Prandelli had change the mentality of Italian national teams and taught that despite the most important thing in a tournament is winning no matter how, there is a way of playing that actually is based on playing the ball and trying to create as much occasions as possible, especially when you can count on so many quality offensive players!
Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich thought and showed everyone this season that even a 4-2-3-1 can be very offensive and delight spectators for ninety minutes instead of waiting for something to happen or penalty kicks.
Perhaps nine years have been too many without being European Champions for Italy U21 after spoiling the fans in the 90’s and maybe the Federation is asking to be solid and concrete in this tournament, but what Italy and its fans need now is a team capable of making spectators enjoy the game rather than the old ninety minutes suffering that we are used to.
Coach Mangia must find the way to let the stars coexist and play together. Why not a 4-2-3-1 with Insigne, Saponara and Gabbiadini in support of Destro? Anything else but not another boring 4-4-2 with six young offensive stars sitting on the bench please!
Italy plays Israel next on Saturday and can seal already the qualification to next round which will allow them to rest a few players in their last match of the group which could be beneficial in such a short and intense tournament.
England plays Norway the same day and must show some football before even thinking of winning the match.