Cesare Prandelli’s Italy arrive at the Confederations Cup with optimism, and belief, on the back of a strong World Cup qualification campaign.
The Azzuri surprised many last summer, as they reached the Euro 2012 Final, where they were defeated byWorld Champions, Spain. A year on, Italy continue to flourish, under the guidance of former Fiorentina supremo Prandelli. Unbeaten in all competitive matches, since the 4-0 loss to Spain in Kyiv, the Italians comfortably top Qualification Group B, which includes strong opposition in the form of Bulgaria, Czech Republic, and Denmark. Prandelli’s men have taken 14 points from a possible 18, conceding only 4 goals in the process, and appear certain to secure the automatic qualification spot for the World Cup Finals, in Brazil.
In spite of their strong form in competitive fixtures, Italy have struggled in friendly matches, particularly against heavyweight opposition. Prior to a 4-0 thrashing of minnows San Marino, on the 31st May, the Azzuri had failed to achieve victory in 7 exhibition outings, during which they suffered defeat against Uruguay, Russia, and USA. Perhaps more significantly, the Italians have been unable to achieve victory in games against France, England, Holland, or Brazil, in the last 12 months.
The Confederations Cup therefore, gives Italy the perfect opportunity, to prove that they can beat the big guns, and to test their real credentials, for the main event next summer.
Italy’s greatest strength comes in their robust and experienced defence. In their most recent match, a 0-0 away draw with Czech Republic, the Azzuri fielded the same back four that started the Euro 2012 Final; Giorgio Chiellini and Ignazio Abate at full back, and Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli as the centre half partnership. Chiellini, Bonucci and Barzagli are all stalwarts of Juventus’ recent domestic success, whereas Abate has established himself as Milan’s first-choice right back, over past 4 seasons. Sitting behind the defence, remains Gianluigi Buffon, who, aside from a high profile horror show against Bayern Munich, continues to perform on the highest stage, at the ripe old age of 35. Italy’s fine defensive record in qualification is testament to the qualities of their back line.
Veterans Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi are likely to be chosen as the central midfield pairing by Prandelli. De Rossi may have experienced an indifferent season in Serie A with Roma, however his passion, and engine, are essential to the national team. Meanwhile, Pirlo, who can consider himself unfortunate not to be named Player of the Tournament at Euro 2012, remains as the beating heart, and metronome, of the Azzuri. Pirlo, who finished in 4th place in terms of number of passes made across the major European leagues this season, announced that he will retire after the World Cup next year. Milan’s Ricardo Montolivio and Juventus’ Claudio Marchisio, also present in the Euro 2012 Final, are likely to be picked by Prandelli, to play on the flanks.
Mario Balotelli is undoubtedly Italy’s star man, and will lead the line after a hugely impressive – and notably consistent – start to his career with boyhood heroes Milan. Since joining from Manchester City in January, Balotelli struck 12 goals in 13 Serie A games, and propelled his side into the Champions League. However, the 22 year-old is still making headlines for the wrong reasons as well: Balotelli was sent-off in the recent match against the Czech Republic, after collecting 2 yellow cards within 4 minutes. The striker subsequently proceeded to punch and kick the walls of the stadium tunnel, and later posted a vicious tirade on his twitter account.
Balotelli is likely to be partnered up front alongside Milan team-mate, Stephan El Shaarawy, who at the age of 20, is predicted to have a big future in Italian football. The likes of Alessandro Diamanti, Sebastian Giovinco and Antonio Candreva, will provide Prandelli with attacking options, on the bench. Antonio Cassano misses out, having not played in the latter stages of the season, due to injury.
Italy will certainly enter the Confederations Cup with a quiet confidence, owing to their experienced core, and youthful strike force. However, should Balotelli misfire, or not have his head straight, the team may struggle for a killer instinct in the final third. With World Cup qualification virtually secured, Prandelli will be hoping that his charges can show himself, and the Italian public, that they are capable of repeating the feat of 2006, in Brazil, next year.
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Mexico enter the Confederations cup in reasonably good form, with four points from two games in their recent World Cup qualifying matches.
Talisman Javier Hernandez is in good goal scoring form after a brace in the recent 2-2 draw with Nigeria, and he may be fresher than he would have hoped after a slightly less involved season at Manchester United than he would have hoped.
With a predominantly home based players, manager José Manuel de la Torre will be calling upon the experience of Gerardo Torrado and Carlos Salcido amongst others as the elder members of the squad to lead by example as they face the group favourites Brazil and Italy, and their hopes will rest on how they perform against the two heavyweights.
The major absence in the squad is that of Real Sociedad striker Carlos Vela. The 24-year-old, who has hit form in Spain after his move from Arsenal had met with de la Torre, but the Mexican manager decided not to include Vela in the squad stating that he was “not committed to being in the national team at this moment.” They are also without Olympic golden boy Oribe Peralta through injury, after scoring the goals that led Meixco to a 2-1 win over Brazil in the Olympic final he has managed just three goals in five games for Santos Laguna in the recent Clausura season.
Backed by a safe pair of hands in Guillermo Ochoa, the Mexican defence contains a mixture of youth and experience. Salcido and Clausura Champion Francisco Javier Rodríguez are joined by the fresh faces of Club America’s Diego Reyes – the youngest member of the squad at just 20 years old and Hiram Mier who is attracting interest from Europe amongst others.
The midfield is bossed by Gerardo Torrado, the 34 year old has been there and done it in a Mexico shirt and will be looking to lead by example throughout the group stages. He will be joined by Valencia’s Andres Guardado who is closing in on 100 caps and Pablo Barrera, Villarreal new boy Javier Aquino and Jesus Molina to name a few.
Spearheading the El Tri attack will be Manchester United’s Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez who boasts an astonishing goal scoring record for the national team, and he will wear his traditional number 14 shirt. The ‘little pea’ will be joined in the front line by Aldo De Nigris of Guadalajara, Clausura winning Raul Jimenez and another player plying his trade abroad in Giovani dos Santos.
Buoyed by their Olympic gold medal at the London Olympics in 2012, they face Costa Rica in another qualifying match up before they take on Italy in Rio De Janeiro on the 16th June. They face a Brazilian side on home soil just three days later and end their group campaign against Japan on June 22nd. The country will be hoping however that their competitions lasts slightly longer than that.
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