CURRENT FORM: EURO 2000 QUALIFICATION & FRIENDLIES
Form? What form? We don't need no stinking form! At least that is what
Dino Zoff seems to be pretending. Despite what has been a less than
inspiring run up to the Euros, there are some "experts" in Italy who do
not think a berth in the final is unlikely!
This lack of form has included the first consecutive home losses in over
13 years and a sound whipping by Spain not long ago, so optimism is
not exactly running high amongst most reasonable Italians. The goal
really should be just reaching the semifinals of Euro2000.
Mintaining what is left of the flagging confidence of Zoff and Italian soccer
officials is the mantra of "we don't play well in friendlies - when the time
comes for matches that count, Italia will give a good account of itself."
Italy was 4-3-1 in the qualifiers, and the resultant 15 points won them
Group 1 by one point over Denmark and Switzerland. They essentially started
well in their qualification effort, streaking out to four wins and a tie in their
first five matches before stumbling in their last three qualifiers. Two draws
against Switzerland and Belarus were sandwiched around a disappointing
home defeat at the hands of Denmark (2-3.)
Italy averaged under 2 goals a game on attack, but their defense only yielded
5 goals in the 8 qualifiers, with the bulk of those coming in the disaster against
the Danes. The attack was a balanced one, with Christian Vieri and Pippo
Inzaghi leading the team with just 3 scores each in Group 1 play. Alex
Del Piero and Diego Fuser were the only other two Azzurri with more than
one goal, notching a pair of goals apiece.
Added to the lurching finish, even more alarm is derived by recent friendly
results against Belgium (a 1-3 loss in Lecce last November) and Spain
(a 2-0 loss in Barcelona at the end of March.)
RECORD AGAINST GROUP OPPONENTS
GAMES AGAINST BELGIUM
|20-Jun-54||Switzerland||4-1 W||World Cup|
|29-Apr-72||Home||0-0 D||Euro Qualif|
|13-May-72||Away||1-2 L||Euro Qualif|
|Overall Record: 12
games, 6 wins, 4 draws, 2 losses, 17-10 goals
GAMES AGAINST SWEDEN
|25-Jun-50||Brazil||2-3 L||World Cup|
|03-Jun-70||Mexico||1-0 W||World Cup|
|09-Jun-71||Away||0-0 D||Euro Qualif|
|09-Oct-71||Home||3-0 W||Euro Qualif|
|29-May-83||Away||0-2 L||Euro Qualif|
|15-Oct-83||Home||0-3 L||Euro Qualif|
|03-Jun-87||Away||0-1 L||Euro Qualif|
|14-Nov-87||Home||2-1 W||Euro Qualif|
|Overall Record: 15 games, 6 wins, 4 draws, 5 losses, 16-15 goals|
|GAMES AGAINST TURKEY|
|02-Dec-62||Home||6-0 W||Euro Qualif|
|27-Mar-63||Away||1-0 W||Euro Qualif|
|13-Jan-73||Home||0-0 D||World Cup Qualif|
|25-Feb-73||Away||1-0 W||World Cup Qualif|
|Overall Record: 7 games,
6 wins, 1 draw, 14-2 goals
Data taken from the Archive of International Football Results at :
Paolo Maldini - A.C. Milan - Defender
He remains the leader of a team in the midst of some confusion. Despite
the presence of Lazio's talented central defender Alessandro Nesta, left
back Maldini is still the heart of the Azzurri. Still capable of rushes down
the wing to help the attack, Maldini is a classy defender in the style of
Giacinto Facchetti, a national team captain whom Maldini recently passed
for total caps and captain's bands for the Azzurri. Maldini, winner of
Scudettos and European and International Cups with the Rossoneri is
a certainty for Italy.
Maldini is one of the last of the career-long, one-club players. He joined
the top club from the Milan youth ranks while only a 16 year-old. Since
then he has been part of multiple International, European and Scudetto
winners and has assumed the role of Captain for the Rossoneri. He has
likewise compiled a long and impressive reign with the Italian national
side and is the captain of the Azzurri as well.
He has scored 22 goals in Serie A play - one this past season - while
amassing 430 caps for Milan in Serie A play alone. He is closing on the
all-time caps record for an Italian, having passed the 100 mark recently,
held by his manager on the Italian national side, Dino Zoff (112.)
Stefano Fiore - Udinese - Midfielder
Contrary to the feelings of most Italian soccer fans, whom are in favor of
Roma's Francesco Totti being the lynchpin in the Italian attack, Dino Zoff
seems to have settled upon an international newcomer, Stefano Fiore, for
that key role. The Udinese mainstay is the latest rage in Italian
midfielders. Fiore is much more the classic Italian midfielder - balanced
between possession and attack - than the clearly goal-oriented Totti.
Yet he managed to outscore the Roman 8-7 in goals, and was edged out
in assists 10-9! The use of Fiore is a key move for Zoff and Italy. If the
young (just turned 25 in April) midfielder can successfully insert himself
into the mix in Dino Zoff's side, then Italy will have a playmaker for the
first time in over a decade. Fiore can score himself, but his greatest
contribution to his team is ability to make almost prescient passes to
his strikers. He was at his best in an Italy win over Portugal in April.
Until this season, Fiore bore the mantle of "promising youngster" like a
millstone around his neck. Despite his talent, he remained mired on the
bench at Parma. But when he was sent to Udinese at the start of this
season, the Cosenza native made the most of the opportunity, scoring
8 goals and assisting on 9 others. He has but 3 international caps to his
Filippo "Pippo" Inzaghi - Juventus - Forward
With the loss of Italy's best attacker, Inter striker Christian Vieri, to
injury, the pressure will be on Juve's "SuperPippo" to show that he can
provide the bite that Italy will need to advance to their stated goal, the
semifinals of Euro 2000. Inzaghi's trademarks are his quickness and
professional finishing touch, but he can be manhandled by some
defenders and is known to possess a bit of a prima donna temperament.
If his strike partner is Juve teammate Alessandro Del Piero, the Italian
team gains the advantage of having two strikers who know each other's
moves and could be deadly on the 1-2 combinations that often spring a
striker free for a goal opportunity.
A product of the Piacenza youth soccer program, he was purchased by
Parma and then loaned to Atalanta to gain experience. While at Atalanta
in 96-97, he led Serie A in scoring with 24 goals and garnered the
attention of "Grandi" like Juve, Milan and Inter. He eventually had his
Parma contract bought by Juventus. where he has won a scudetto and
scored 45 goals in three season with "La Vecchia Signora". An Inter fan
by birth, he has been in some transfer market rumors so far this spring.
Younger (though bigger) brother Simone is another Piacenza youth
product who has risen to the top ranks of Serie A as a striker.
STYLE OF PLAY
The Italians are traditionally a countering side that relies on good keeping
and defense, vigorous support from its' midfield and opportunistic strikers.
This year's club is not much different - Zoff is unlikely to use anything but
the 4-4-2, 3-5-2 or 5-3-2 formations that are commonplace in Serie A. In
Alessandro Nesta and Paolo Maldini he has two towers of strength in the
defensive ranks, but the midfield has long been searching for a playmaker.
Zoff hopes that Totti or Udinese's Stefano Fiore will emerge to guide the
reins - if not, the team will again rely on a less-than-exciting game of
possession and countering. This will be made harder by the loss of Vieri, a
big and skilled traditional center-forward type who was Italy's "reference
point" on attack. Without him, Italy is likely to use the skilled, but rather
lightweight, attack of Alex Del Piero and Pippo Inzaghi.
TACTICAL ORGANIZATION & FORMATION
As mentioned above, Italy will rarely stray from the use of conservative
formations like the 4-4-2. Maldini is not the race horse he once was
down the left flank although Totti provides a spark of creativity with his
ability to find space in the smallest of openings. Nesta, when healthy, is
one of the most capable and dogged defenders in the world. Zoff has
stubbornly resisted last minute attempts to get him to re-consider not
using Roberto Baggio after the Inter star had a spectacular game as
Inter won the last CL spot from Parma. So it will be Totti whom will be
expected to provide creativity for the Azzurri.
The Azzurri still boast of a strong contingent of keepers (despite the
refusal of Angelo Peruzzi to join the squad and his replacement with
Roma's Antonioli) and an equally strong group of defenders led by Nesta
and Maldini. The Italian corps of attackers, despite the loss of Vieri, is
still more than adequate with Del Piero, the Inzaghi Brothers and Totti.
The midfield has looked very uninspired and, when the midfield struggles
greatly, the attack dries up and Italy goes without goals for long periods.
This puts pressure on the defense and even the best of rearguards will fold
after a while. This was quite evident in the disaster against Spain, and
a little less evident against Belgium.