Prandelli plotting a final twist to epic tale
SOCCER:UNDER PRESSURE from the media only a month ago, senior Italian Federation officials insisted they would be sticking with Cesare Prandelli for the next two years, regardless of how the team fared here at these European Championships.
Yesterday, a hundred or so of the country’s football journalists warmly applauded him into his press conference back at Casa Azzurri, the team’s base here in Krakow. He looked like a man who was enjoying the moment.
During the 40 minutes that followed the possibility of the 53- year-old walking away from the job in the coming weeks to go to a big club was raised more than once – and never entirely dismissed.
His team, meanwhile, was described back home by one paper as the greatest Italian side of the post-war period. There might actually be a case to be made for that suggestion, but until they overcome their greatest challenge yet at this tournament and beat Spain to lift the title, the boys from 1968, 1982 and 2006 will feel entitled to indulge in a spot of that old footballers’ saw: “Show us your medals”.
In the wake of Thursday’s remarkable win in Warsaw, however, there is a very real feeling around the Italian camp they can upset the reigning world and European champions.
Before this tournament got underway, the best case anyone seemed capable of making for an Italian triumph was the team has a habit of thriving when there is a scandal raging back at home.
Now, Prandelli’s standing has soared after the way he has engineered the elimination of Croatia, England and Germany – all ranked above the Italians on Fifa’s world ladder.
He is winning plaudits too for his handling of his players, most notably Mario Balotelli, and basking in the reflected glory of Andrea Pirlo’s regal return to form, as well as strong showings from the likes of Claudio Marchisio, Daniele De Rossi and Antonio Cassano.
The latter he has persisted with despite the striker’s obvious difficulties in the wake of months away from the game with serious medical problems.
“Cassano may only have 50 minutes in his legs now,” acknowledged the coach after the Germany game, “but they are a fantastic 50 minutes.”
Against Joachim Loew’s side, he admitted he had gambled by ceding a great deal of territory out wide to ensure they could flood central midfield “and we benefited from always having an extra man there.”
Tomorrow, the challenge will be altogether different against a team that puts nothing like the emphasis on width that the Germans do.
Prandelli acknowledged the scale of the difficulties yesterday but gave little away regarding potential solutions:
“As we did against the Germans we have to look for weaknesses; they are a great team and there aren’t many but we believe we can find a few and then work to exploit them.”
When the two sides met in their group (the fourth time this has happened down the years), Prandelli took a different approach to the one employed in the games since, with three central defenders, among them De Rossi, and wide midfielders expected to cover an awful lot of ground up and down the flanks.
It all worked well enough and Italy generally had the better of the contest, even if Spain ultimately deserved their draw.