European Championship in focus: Spotlighting Italy

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Man that matters: 

Gianluigi Buffon: For all of the Azzurri’s new interest in offensive soccer, defense still has its place. And that starts with the captain, who has been Italy’s No. 1 for the better part of 12 years. Who could underestimate the leadership and influence of a man with 113 Italian caps, not to mention a World Cup trophy (2006, when Buffon posted five shutouts in seven matches, allowing just two goals)? Now 34 years old (hardly ancient in goalkeeper years) Buffon already is considered among the best ever at his position.

First-round games:

June 10: vs. Spain (Gdansk, Poland)

June 14: vs. Croatia (Poznan, Poland)

June 18: vs. Ireland (Poznan, Poland)

Foursome of knowledge:

  • AC Milan playmaker Antonio Cassano recovered sufficiently from winter injury absence to make the 23-man roster, but Villarreal striker Giuseppe Rossi, who grew up in New Jersey before moving to Italy in his middle school years, will miss the tournament with a serious knee injury.
  • Given Rossi’s absence, the Azzurri are short on attacking options – hence the necessary inclusion of such a prickly element as Mario Balotelli. On the other hand, this won’t be the defensively committed, counter-attacking team of Italian tradition. Under manager coach Cesare Prandelli the team has becoming more pleasing to the eye, with further commitment to passing and attacking. As he says of the shift to more offensive mindset, he wanted Italian soccer “more on the front foot.” Given their strength in midfield with players like Cassano, deep-lying playmaker Andrea Pirlo and quality two-way man Danielle Di Rossi, that seems like a useful approach.
  • Prandelli’s influence is among the reasons Cassano has flourished in the national shirt. The AC Milan man’s very presence on the roster is something of an inspiration considering a scary situation last October, where his Euro 2012 dreams seemed dashed after he suffered a sort of mini-stroke. Cassano was barely able to speak or move in the days following.
  • Prandelli insists he never considered leaving Balotelli off the roster. The 21-year-old is certainly sufficiently talented to leave Euro 2012 mark – but carrying him is like carrying stores of unstable ordinance. Treat it with care, or you’ll have a mess on your hands – just ask anyone around Manchester City.

Where they are going:

We seem more likely to see the Azzurri version that cruised rather trouble-free through Euro qualifying, the lone blemish in eight games a draw at Serbia, which isn’t much of a blemish. But if things go wrong early and the pressure mounts, it’s possible that we may re-visit the wrecked Italy of World Cup 2010, the disastrous end to Marcello Lippi’s up-and-down days in charge.

And it could happen given a tricky first-round schedule. Up first: Spain. Good luck with all that.

Croatia seems like fair game, but the Group C closer is against Italy, and images of the 1994 World Cup USA upset to the Irish could haunt the typically superstitious Italians.

source:  The roster:

Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Morgan De Sanctis (SSC Napoli), Salvatore Sirigu (Paris Saint-Germain FC).

Defenders: Ignazio Abate (AC Milan), Federico Balzaretti (US Città di Palermo), Andrea Barzagli (Juventus), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Christian Maggio (SSC Napoli), Angelo Ogbonna (Torino FC).

Midfielders: Daniele De Rossi (AS Roma), Alessandro Diamanti (Bologna FC), Emanuele Giaccherini (Juventus) Claudio Marchisio (Juventus), Riccardo Montolivo (ACF Fiorentina), Thiago Motta (Paris Saint-Germain FC), Antonio Nocerino (AC Milan), Andrea Pirlo (Juventus).

Forwards: Mario Balotelli (Manchester City FC), Fabio Borini (AS Roma), Antonio Cassano (AC Milan), Antonio Di Natale (Udinese Calcio), Sebastian Giovinco (FC Parma).

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