The Azzurri are unfairly under-rated
29 June ~ Italy were by no means favourites going into last night's semi-final with Germany and were certainly not among the picks to make it to the final. But is there really that clear a divide between the likes of Spain, Germany, Holland and Italy? This tournament suggests there isn't. Germany were humbled last night and deserve exactly what they got. Not because they didn't play well enough, but because they were outplayed. Italy attacked, continuously created chances and never stopped going for goal.
They played the type of football Spain are praised for, even though they haven't put in a truly beautiful performance in a major tournament since Euro 2008. As the camera panned across Italy's starting 11 while their anthem played in the build-up to their opening match against Spain, it dawned on me that even I, as an ardent Italy supporter, had fallen victim to media hype. I had Germany pinned as champions and Italy as quarter-finalists. But each of Italy's starting 11 – on their own merits – is second to no one in their respective positions.
This Italy team may lack width in attack, a gifted trequartista to play Prandelli's preferred 4-3-1-2 position and depth throughout the squad. But do not be fooled – they are a very good side with a manager who has the tactical nous to play to his team's strengths and the self-awareness to compensate for their weaknesses. The same cannot be said for Jogi Low, who is praised for fielding a starting 11 that selects itself and hoping for the best.
Gianluigi Buffon is the greatest goalkeeper that has ever played and I will not entertain any suggestions to the contrary. At 34 he is still the best in the world by a country mile and has proved himself again this season and throughout this tournament. Not only is he technically superior, but he commands his box and players, leads and intimidates opponents.
Much has been written about Italy's defensive prowess in the past, and although this team do not hold a candle to the likes of Claudio Gentile, Giuseppe Bergomi, Gaetano Scirea, Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi, Alessandro Nesta or Fabio Cannavaro, is there a current defence that is significantly better?
There is a lack of width and flair in Italy's midfield, but in terms of central midfielders, their strength and depth is without compare. Daniele De Rossi is arguably the best box-to-box midfielder in the world. He is grossly underrated due to his loyalty to Roma. The likes of Thiago Motta, Claudio Marchisio, Riccardo Montolivo and Antonio Nocerino allow Italy to boss the midfield against anyone.
And then, of course, there is Andrea Pirlo who has been criminally underrated throughout his career. Forget Xavi. Pirlo conducts the game as well as his rival but does it without the luxury of a star-studded supporting cast who are equally adept at dictating play. The epitome of a class act, Pirlo will go down as an Italian legend on par with Gianni Rivera and Roberto Baggio.
Up front, I fail to see a partnership with more collective talent than Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano, both of whom have undermined their own careers with behavioural issues, but are nonetheless phenomenal footballers. These two perhaps best exemplify the impact of media opinion: with so much focus on their next antic off the pitch, it is easy to forget the devastating skills they possess on it. Then there is Prandelli, the tactical genius who few outside of Italy will have heard of before he took over the Azzurri.
Italy's victory is slightly surprising, but not shockingly so. If the media were not so preoccupied churning out the same material that the average fan craves, the outcome would be appreciated for what it is. While I do not blame the mainstream media for overlooking Italian football over the past decade in favour of more lucrative and better marketed leagues, Italy's victory was a stark reminder that the country still produces some serious talent.
Italy's win was not the result of a curse, nor was it an upset of staggering proportions. It was a slight underdog outclassing one of football's media darlings, and a victory that Italians worldwide should be proud of. Jules Carlone
This article appeared first on the I Bloody Love Football blog