This evening’s friendly against Germany in Dortmund sees a match up that inspires memories of some of the greatest games in International football history. In the 1970, 1982 and 2006 World Cup – what I remember, off the top of my head – both sides played out some epic encounters. They’ve played some terribly dull games too, for example the Euro ’96 group game that saw a 0-0 draw eliminate the Italians.
Friendly matches are rarely played with the same sort of vigour and nervous tension that a competitive tournament game provides, but it is still a chance to see some of each countries up and coming players alongside their stars. Italy have often used friendly games to blood new players, introducing them to the national team, or to try out new formations and combinations of players.While the result is rarely important for an International coach, the performance of each chosen player will be. Cesare Prandelli has picked a squad that is a breath of fresh air, changed enormously from the old guard that trundled out miserably at the World Cup. Though this is no surprise, as youth and new faces have been the main stay of Prandelli’s selections so far.
Here are the names in the current squad whom I think will provide the most interesting viewing:
You will struggle to find a football fan who hasn’t heard of Gianluigi Buffon. The keeper who made his debut for Parma at the tender age of 19 back in 1995, keeping a clean sheet against Milan. The 2006 World Cup winner has only recently returned from injury, a case of sciatica sustained during the first half of Italy’s World Cup opener against Paraguay.
Buffon will be very keen to assert his authority on the game, a fairly young centre back pairing will require his commanding persona to ensure they have a good game. At just 33 years of age, he can still give a lot to the Azzurri, if he is able to remain injury free.
Italy have a long and illustrious history of pilfering players from other nations and fielding them in their own teams, or Oriundi as they’re more commonly known. Motta becomes the latest of these foreign imports to grace the shirt and will be keen to show how hard he can work together with Daniele De Rossi in the Italian midfield.
Prandelli will hope that T. Motta’s running will allow Montolivo to relax and play the passing game he was famed for last season, and possibly even allow De Rossi to push forward. At 28 he should be in the peak of his career, the man who “doesn’t know the national anthem” will want to achieve Internationally as he has done at club level.
Speaking about Cassano’s move to Milan, Prandelli said: “I didn’t say anything to him, everything that may have been there to say had already been said by Cassano himself. He knows that this is the very last chance. He needs to show that he can behave consistently”
This will no doubt be the case in the national side as well, Antonio Cassano is one of the few players in the Azzurri setup at the moment capable of allowing fans the chance to dream. Without a fantasista a side can be ruthlessly pragmatic, and even successful, but no one falls in love with the conventional when the bizarre, eccentric and extraordinary are available.
Alessandro Matri is having the best week of his career, first a move to Juventus and now a call up to the national side. Matri is a player who was essentially rejected by the youth system at Milan, he was sent on loan to provincial sides in Serie B and C before a move to Serie A Cagliari in 2007 provided him with a platform to play regularly at the top level. He won’t start against Germany, but will be no doubt be dreaming of earning his first cap even if it is as a substitute.
Matri brushed with an icon last season when he equalled Gigi Riva’s record, scoring in 7 consecutive games for Cagliari, and after the game modestly suggested that we should “not make comparisons”. His first two seasons at Cagliari were largely unremarkable, scoring 14 in 65 games, but things have improved since then and he has reached double figures already this season. Matri could be the classic no. 9 that Italy need to lead them into the coming International tournaments.
Prandelli has already named his starting XI, unsurprisingly opting for a 4-3-1-2 given the lack of wide players in the squad, the mister has gone for:
The rest of the squad here:
Goalkeepers: Buffon (Juventus), Sirigu (Palermo), Viviano (Bologna).
Defenders: Astori (Cagliari), Bonucci (Juventus), Cassani (Palermo), Criscito (Genoa), Chiellini (Juventus), Maggio (Napoli), Ranocchia (Inter).
Midfielders: Aquilani (Juventus), De Rossi (Roma), Giovinco (Parma), Mauri (Lazio), Montolivo (Fiorentina), Thiago Motta (Inter), Nocerino (Palermo), Palombo (Sampdoria).
Attackers: Borriello (Roma), Cassano (Milan), Matri (Juventus), Pazzini (Inter), Rossi (Villarreal).