We should all give reverence to the two most victorious national sides on the planet when they face each other, even for a friendly. Rubbing their combined nine World Cup titles in everyone else’s faces, Brazil and Italy contested a lively match in Geneva last night.
It was reassuring to see the continuation of Cesare Prandelli’s work with the azzurri still paying off. They dominated Brazil for most of the match and probably deserved to win. The never-aging Andrea Pirlo and the man of the match, (Super) Mario Balotelli, elevated QPR’s keeper Julio Cesar to the best Brazilian on the pitch.
On the other bench, Luiz Felipe Scolari, a.k.a. Big Phil, got yet another reminder that he’s a long way from having a proper team for Brazil 2014, not to mention the looming Confederations Cup at home in June. As usual, however, even when teamwork is missing altogether, Brazil fills the gap with its endless slate of individually talented players. The Italians should know better, but if there is one lesson in football, it is this: don’t underestimate Brazil.
In the 33rd minute, the still-in-the-rough diamond that is Neymar put a precise pass to the left of the box. The ball eventually found Filipe Luis, whose cross reached a cold-blooded Fred. He poked it into Buffon’s net without a bounce to open the scoring for Brazil. Even if Julio Cesar continued to save Brazil left and right, their unjust advantage widened in the 41st minute. A lethal counterattack carried by Neymar from Brazil’s defence all the way across the pitch ended with a sweet pass to serve Oscar in the box. The Chelsea prodigy effortlessly slipped it past Buffon to score Brazil’s second. Read the rest of this entry »
Italy should be grateful that Alessio Cerci turned up at all. Addressing reporters at the national team’s Coverciano training base on Monday, the Torino winger said that he was finding his first-ever call-up a little hard to get his head around. “It seems impossible [that I should be here],” he said. “I’ve always been talked about as a ‘kid with potential’. But for various reasons I never kicked on, I never showed my true worth.”
He had experienced a similar sensation once before in his career. Back in 2003, Cerci was a precocious 15-year-old forward playing for Roma’s youth team. His superior speed, technique and ability to beat an opponent one-on-one had been noted by the then manager, Fabio Capello, who instructed his assistant, Italo Galbiati, to call Cerci up for a day’s training with the senior team. Galbiati did as he was told, yet Cerci never showed. The player thought his coach was joking.
Capello forgave the misunderstanding, and within a year Cerci had made his Serie A debut, replacing Daniele Corvia in the 76th minute of Roma’s 0-0 draw with Sampdoria in May 2004. It was to prove something of a false dawn for Cerci, who would play just four more competitive games for the senior team over the next two seasons as Roma cycled through six different managers.
His potential, though, was never in doubt. Cerci represented Italy consistently at every youth category from Under-16 upwards. He was one of the stars of the 2004 Viareggio youth tournament, scoring four goals for a Roma team that finished third. A glowing report of the player’s progress in La Repubblica noted how he would “win derbies on his own”.
The inevitable scramble to define Cerci according to his similarities to existing professional footballers soon began. That journalists still hadn’t understood his talent was reflected in newspaper reports from his first few years as a pro. In the same week Cerci could be likened to players as diverse as Christian Vieri and Adailton. Read the rest of this entry »
Federico Marchetti has upset Juventus fans in enough instances already this season. Over the course of three meetings with the Bianconeri, the Lazio goalkeeper pulled off a string of bewildering saves, earning his team a 0-0 draw in the league before helping them to a 3-2 aggregate victory in the Coppa Italia semi-final.
Now he has his sights set on an even loftier goal: displacing Gigi Buffon as Italy’s No1 goalkeeper. Or at least that’s what the papers claimed on Tuesday morning. It was a somewhat heavy-handed interpretation of a quote from the player himself, who had simply told them that: “Everyone knows how good Gigi is, but I hope to be there at the Confederations Cup in June.”
Marchetti would, of course, prefer to start in Brazil, yet the suspicion is that even a place on the bench would be an honour. It was, after all, only this week that the goalkeeper received his first call-up in two-and-a-half years. Not since Italy’s disastrous 2010 World Cup campaign had Marchetti played any part for the national team.
Thrust into a starting role back then by an injury to Buffon, Marchetti was hardly the chief culprit in Italy’s demise, though he has himself observed that, “Everybody could have done more”. Italy drew 1-1 with Paraguay and New Zealand before being eliminated by a 3-2 defeat to Slovakia. Marchetti made mistakes in that last game, beaten at the near post for the second goal, but the team as a whole had been dismal.
It was not those performances however which led Cesare Prandelli to overlook Marchetti in the years that followed. Instead what derailed the player’s international career—and indeed his club career, for a period—was nothing more than a careless comment to a newspaper.
Marchetti had been playing for Cagliari at the time of the World Cup, but shortly after Italy’s elimination he told a Gazzetta dello Sport journalist that he had sought a move to Sampdoria. “In the end I cost too much [for Samp to pay], so I stayed at Cagliari,” he said, before insisting he was content with that outcome. “I have such strong feelings for this club.” Read the rest of this entry »
Nicklas Bendtner has played just ten minutes for Juventus to date, but already feels confident that he is benefiting from his Italian experience. “I have never trained this hard in my life,” said the striker this week following Denmark’s World Cup qualifying draw against Bulgaria. “We have two sessions a day! I feel super-fit, so much so that against Bulgaria I played 90 minutes, scored, and wasn’t tired at the end.”
He would go on to state his eagerness to eventually convert this year’s loan into a permanent deal. First, though, Bendtner needs to convince his new coaches of his ability to contribute. If a Tuesday night qualifier against an Italy side featuring many Juventus players would appear to provide him with the perfect opportunity to showcase his talents, then the story of Ahn-Jung Hwan might just give him pause for thought.
If Ahn’s position in the summer of 2002 was not quite the same as Bendtner’s today, there were at the least superficial similarities. A young forward who had made his name abroad, the South Korea international had also arrived in Serie A on a loan deal, joining Perugia in the summer of 2000 and subsequently having the arrangement renewed a year later.
Like Bendtner, Ahn had no doubts about his own abilities. He might not, as the Dane infamously did while at Arsenal, have declared himself to be one of the best forwards in the world, but he did immediately suggest that he could outstrip one of his club’s greatest ever players. “Within six months I can be better than Hidetoshi Nakata,” stated Ahn at his unveiling. Instead he struggled, just as the Juventus player has so far, to even get in the team.
By 2002, Ahn had enjoyed a far longer run at establishing himself in Italy than Bendtner has, spending two full seasons with Perugia but scoring just five goals in thirty games. Nevertheless it was expected that he would return again for another year. That was until he made the fatal mistake of scoring against Italy in that summer’s World Cup. Read the rest of this entry »
53 nations. 13 spots. For those of us in North America – Canada more specifically – the qualification process for the World Cup is a tough slog. I’m guessing our friends in Europe feel no sympathy. Yes, the heavyweights destroy the minnows – no offense, Faroe Islands. But the desperation felt by nations like Scotland and Serbia – who played to a scoreless draw today, is immense as each game takes on an almost surreal level of importance. Lets take a tour, shall we.
Bulgaria 2 – 2 Italy
Georgi Milanov’s second half strike salvaged a point for Bulgaria – the better side throughout – in Group B tussle at Vassil Levski Stadion. With apologies to Radamel Falcao, is there a more in form striker in the world than Pablo Osvaldo right now? The Roma star has scored twice in two Serie A games and added a double yesterday. Neither goal was of the exceptional variety, but you’re in form they come. In a group that features Denmark and the Czech Republic, a slow start from Italy could be dicey for Cesare Prandelli’s side.
Not everybody was caught off guard by Cesare Prandelli’s decision to include an uncapped 20-year-old Serie B midfielder in his provisional Italy squad for Euro 2012. “I’m not surprised: [Marco] Verratti knows how to play football,” declared Zdenek Zeman, the player’s club manager at Pescara. “He has natural talents and significant room for improvement. He must watch and learn from the greats, but he is on the right path.”
If that much is true, then Verratti has Zeman to thank. Although the player’s progress had been sufficient to draw the attention of Italy’s leading clubs long before his manager’s arrival in the summer of 2011, this season has nevertheless represented a turning point. At this time last year Prandelli would not even have considered Verratti as an option in midfield, because up to that point he had typically played in the hole behind the attack.
That changed during Zeman’s very first training session with the club. “Zeman’s 4-3-3 is as tolerant of trequartistas as Mormons are of pre-marital sex,” noted Gazzetta dello Sport’s Jacopo Gerna as he reflected on the immediate decision to convert the player into a deep-lying regista. The manager is famous for his commitment to open, attacking football but he recognised in Verratti a vision which could be best exploited by giving him the space to dictate play. Read the rest of this entry »