Posts Tagged ‘Italy’

Report: Italy’s Balotelli sinks England in muggy Manaus

“Manaus (Brazil) (AFP) – Mario Balotelli’s second-half header earned Italy a 2-1 victory over an enterprising England side in an engaging World Cup Group D opener in Manaus on Saturday.”

My first World Cup match report for AFP on a captivating encounter at the Amazonia Arena can be read here.

Reaction: Hodgson shields Rooney after opening defeat
Reaction: Prandelli blasts ‘absurd’ lack of time-outs

Compulsive risk-taker Verratti relegates Cabaye to sideshow

Marco VERRATTINewcastle United fans, look away now. If losing Yohan Cabaye was painful, it probably won’t help to learn that he’s not even getting in the Paris Saint-Germain team at the moment.

As one of the stars of Lille’s 2010-11 double-winning team and a core member of the France side that engineered November’s famous comeback against Ukraine in World Cup qualifying, Cabaye is not short of admirers in his home country, but he is not playing for PSG for the simple reason that he is not Marco Verratti.

Since swapping the Bigg Market for the Champs Elysées in January, Cabaye has made only four starts. Instead, he is becoming the player that Laurent Blanc turns to when Verratti needs a breather, starting in the second leg of the Champions League last 16 encounter with Bayer Leverkusen (after PSG had put the tie to bed with a 4-0 victory in the first leg) and coming into the team for Friday’s 1-0 win at Nice, when Verratti was rested ahead of this week’s meeting with Chelsea.

French pundits believe that PSG’s neatly balanced midfield trio of Verratti, Thiago Motta and Blaise Matuidi will give them the edge in their quarter-final against Chelsea, and if Motta supplies the brains and Matuidi the lungs in that triumvirate, Verratti is the wildly and erratically pumping heart.

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Report: Nerveless Navas sends Spain into final

“FORTALEZA, Brazil — Jesús Navas settled a nail-biting penalty shoot-out 7-6 for Spain as the world and European champions edged Italy on a sultry evening in Fortaleza on Thursday to set up a Confederations Cup final meeting with Brazil.”

My AFP match report on Spain’s rope-a-dope semi-final victory over Italy at the Confederations Cup can be read here.

Report: Spain crush Italy to win historic Euro 2012 crown

“KIEV — Spain confirmed their status as one of the greatest national teams in football history by overwhelming Italy 4-0 in Sunday’s Euro 2012 final in Kiev to retain their European crown.”

My AFP match report on the Euro 2012 final can be read here. I also wrote a tournament review, which can be found here.

Pitchside Europe: The strangeness of international football

“Imagine, if you will, that every few weeks, you and a select group of people from rival companies were summoned to work together on a special project for which none of you were paid but which was considered more important than anything you could ever achieve in your day-to-day job. Sound absurd? Welcome to the world of the international footballer.”

This week’s Pitchside Europe column for Eurosport, on the dislocating experience of international football, can be found here.

World Cup 2010: A tactical review

At the dawn of the tournament Football Further posed ten tactical questions that the World Cup would answer. Three days after Spain’s tense extra-time victory over the Netherlands in the final, the answers to those questions reflect a tournament in which defensive rigour was overwhelmingly de riguer and tactical innovation conspicious by its rarity.

1. Will freshness or preparedness prevail in Group A?
Having played just one game in the build-up to the tournament – a 4-1 win over Israel in Montevideo on May 26 – Uruguay took control of Group A before scrapping their way to the last four for the first time since 1970. How much of that was down to their fitness, and not the obliging manner in which the big teams benignly opened up the path to the semi-finals, is debatable. Mexico played 12 preparation matches and also made it out of the group phase, while their 3-1 defeat by Argentina in the last 16 showed no discernible signs of fatigue.

2. Will France’s 4-3-3 work?
How to put this? Not only did France’s 4-3-3 fail to work, but Raymond Domenech lost all faith in it before the tournament had even started. In their opening game, a 0-0 draw with Uruguay, they reverted to their tried and tested (if not actually effective) 4-2-3-1, with Jérémy Toulalan and Abou Diaby in the holding midfield roles and Yoann Gourcuff as the playmaker. The 4-2-3-1 remained in place for the 2-0 defeat by Mexico, but this time with Franck Ribéry in the playmaking role (to which he is wholly unsuited) and Nicolas Anelka reprising his great disappearing centre-forward act until matters came to a head at half-time. It was not until the 2-1 loss to South Africa that the long-awaited 4-3-3 finally made its appearance, but by then it was already too late. Over to you, Monsieur Blanc.

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World Cup 2010: Ten tactical questions

With the World Cup now deliciously within reach, Football Further looks at ten tactical issues that could have a decisive influence on the outcome of the tournament.

1. Will freshness or preparedness prevail in Group A?
Attention on the tournament’s opening group is likely to focus on the travails of Raymond Domenech’s France and the efforts of South Africa to avoid becoming the first World Cup hosts not to make it beyond the first round, but both Mexico and Uruguay go into the tournament with high ambitions and two very different approaches to preparation. Mexico, like South Africa, embarked upon an exhaustive pre-tournament schedule, with coach Javier Aguirre dragging 17 players out of the Mexican championship early and overseeing no less than 12 friendly matches since the end of February, culminating in the superb 2-1 defeat of Italy in Brussels last Thursday. In the same period, Uruguay have played just once – a 4-1 win over Israel in Montevideo on May 26. Oscar Tábarez, who led La Celeste into battle at Italia 90, says he wanted to avoid tiring his players out. “This tournament is a drain,” he said. “Whoever turns up tired gets knocked out immediately. Teams with much bigger pools of players than ours, Argentina and Brazil, have lost for neglecting this aspect.” The battle of the fresh and the fit takes place on June 22, when Uruguay and Mexico will contest a potentially decisive final group game in Rustenburg.

2. Will France’s 4-3-3 work?
As discussed in detail last week, France are expected to deploy a 4-3-3 formation that they’ve worked on for only a matter of weeks after Lassana Diarra’s withdrawal forced Domenech to ditch the 4-2-3-1 that France have used since the eve of the 2006 tournament. After an encouraging 2-1 victory against Costa Rica, France drew 1-1 with Tunisia before slumping to a 1-0 defeat by China, and there are growing calls for ineffective right-winger Sidney Govou to be replaced by Arsenal central midfielder Abou Diaby, with Florent Malouda moving forward to the left wing and Franck Ribéry switching flanks to the right.

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Iconic Grosso bows out with fistful of heaven

The naming and subsequent pruning of provisional World Cup squads in recent days has yielded a number of high-profile casualties, among them Ronaldinho, Francesco Totti, Antonio Cassano, Esteban Cambiasso, Javier Zanetti and Karim Benzema, and the tournament will undoubtedly be poorer for their absences.

Young stars including Italy’s Mario Balotelli and the extravagantly gifted Brazilian pair of Neymar and Paulo Henrique Ganso have also missed out on the call-ups that many purists had hoped they might receive.

A less high-profile absentee in South Africa will be Italian left-back Fabio Grosso, who was removed from the defending champions’ squad on Tuesday afternoon when Marcello Lippi cut his provisional group down from 30 to 28. An elegant former left-winger with a superb left foot, Grosso paid the price for a less than stellar season with Juventus, where he was unable to pin down a regular first-team place amid competition from 23-year-old Paolo De Ceglie.

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World Cup scouting: Antonio Di Natale (Italy)

The express purpose of the World Cup scouting feature is to shed light on up-and-coming young players to look out for in South Africa, but this week Football Further is focusing on a more established player who tends not to receive the attention his ability richly deserves.

Antonio Di Natale was this week named in Italy’s provisional 30-man World Cup squad and if, as expected, he retains his place when Marcello Lippi whittles his group down to 23, it will be the first time that the 32-year-old Udinese captain has been selected for football’s showpiece event.

A short, wily support striker with marvellous technique and an exquisite touch, Di Natale is right-footed but typically plays from the left and has proven that he is more than just a scorer of great goals this season by racing to the top of the Serie A scoring charts. He has netted 28 times in 32 starts, breaking the club record for goals scored in a single season previously established by Oliver Bierhoff in 1997-98 and on Sunday he reached the 100-goal milestone in Serie A with a brace against Bari. If he repeats the trick in Udinese’s final game at Lazio on Saturday he will become only the second man after Luca Toni in 2006 to reach the 30-goal mark since Inter’s Antonio Valentín Angelillo in 1959.

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