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WTF Italy???

June 4, 2010

Yesterday, Italy lost to Mexico 2-1 in Brussels. Not a horrible score line really, if you disregard the identities of the two teams playing. But take a look at the time of possession. Mexico is sitting at 67 percent. That is a ridiculous amount of possession. Marcello Lippi blames it on the altitude training they have been doing in the Alps, but this defense seems almost as shaky as the pairing of Fabio Cannavaro (long past his best and on his way to the UAE) and Leonardo Bonnuci. It begs the question why this is the first friendly Italy have played, when every other team on Earth seems to have already played at least two (and in the case of Chile, roughly a dozen).

More importantly, it makes me question whether or not Italy can even make it out of a relatively weak group. On paper it isn’t very scary, but lets take a deeper look. In Paraguay they are facing a similar side to the Mexico side that has already beaten them. This, surely, cannot be a positive sign. Especially considering that rather than youngsters full of talent but short of experience like Carlos Vela and Javier Hernandez, Paraguay can call on the likes of Roque Santa Cruz and Lucas Barrios, who is coming into the World Cup on the back of 3 goals and an assist in the 4 friendlies leading up to the World Cup.

Next up will be New Zealand. Again, not a terrifying squad. But they are playing a 3-4-3, which while it may seem suicidal, might give Italy problems. Again, I reference the Mexico game. As I have said before, this is a ballsy system for a team like New Zealand to be playing, but so far it seems to have worked for them. They nearly drew with Australia in Australia, then beat a defensively strong Serbian team 1-0. If nothing else, they are psyched for this tournament, something that doesn’t seem true of the Italians. Nevertheless, they still have proven performers on their team, in the shape of Ryan Nelsen and Chris Killen. Both have experienced top flight football in Europe, and both will be mainstays of the side. Against a team with a lot of grit, discipline, and desire to win Italy might just fold. Certainly an early goal from the All Whites could make this a very interesting fixture.

Lastly there is Slovakia. Honestly, despite looking for a long time for a reason they might beat Italy, I couldn’t find anything. This saddened me greatly, but I am consoled by the fact that this is the World Cup. Strange things happen, and the best team doesn’t always win. So maybe, just maybe Slovakia will pull it out. Even I, skeptical of Italy as I am, doubt that though.

But taking a look over the group, you get the feeling that we could see a shock. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Italy lose to Paraguay in the opener, draw with New Zealand, and manage to beat Slovakia in their third game. This leaves them with 4 points. I think Paraguay is likely to get at least 6 points from the group, which means that either New Zealand or Slovakia (again, I’m thinking New Zealand here) would probably end up at 4 as well. So it could all come down to goal differential.

I know this is all speculative, but Italy aren’t the same team that won the World Cup four years ago. Or rather they are, and that is the problem. With the Serie A reluctant to blood young Italian talents (like Fredrico Macheda, who had to go to Manchester and score a wonder goal to be recognized in Italy, and then it only so they could grouse about him leaving), it seems Marcello Lippi is too (Italy are the 4th oldest side in the World Cup). They are an aging squad, most of whom seem to be past their best. It would take some minor miracles for Italy not to make it out of the group stages, but it is far from impossible, and finishing second is even more likely. And you get the feeling that they might not match up well against the Dutch if they come in 2nd in Group F. Who knows what will happen, but this could be a very interesting group.

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