Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Back in the summer of 2004, Jumpthefence gathered round a tv set in a small cafe in the Italian town of Levanto with about 50 Italians. The Azzurri were playing Sweden in Euro 04 and for 50 minutes or so, hockeyed them off the pitch with some wonderful attacking flair - for those who'd suggest Trapattoni's ALWAYS negative, well he merged Del Piero, Vieri and Cassano that night with Perrotta breaking from midfield, Pirlo creating and two full-backs marauding for an hour. However his Italian side retreated further and further back on a 1-0 lead as the game progressed and gave up a late equaliser. Trapattoni got dog's abuse that night (as did Vieri) as the locals blamed his lack of killer instinct and tendency towards safety. Lessons to be learnt for us? Apart from the obvious, Trap might just have a point to prove going home.
Can we get something tonight? History and form suggest no. We've a horrendous record on the road in competitive games - everyone knows by now it's 1987 since we beat anyone even half-decent. Italy haven't lost at home for a hell of a time. They're top of the group and while we're second, we're coming off a really poor performance and to call the midfield makeshift would be understating matters.
There's a possibility of a thumping if Italy hit the ground running and decide to play with a high tempo. Zambrotta and Grosso will need serious watching and Hunt and Keogh may not just have the head or the legs. Pirlo can't get the type of room Petrov did on Saturday night or he'll run the show effortlessly - this must be the job of a striker to get tight cos Whelan and Andrews sit too deep to push up. Our four in midfield really is a championship combo rather than an international one and there must be a fear that they'll be shown up tonight. We'll not keep ball for very long very often and there's an inherent danger in inviting waves of Italian pressure over and over.
It appears Lippi's going with the nippiness of Rossi and Pazzini up front rather than the heft of Iaquinta, which makes sense to trouble O'Shea and Dunne. We may get pulled apart if we're not organised, disciplined and concentrated.
Reasons to be hopeful? Ammm. It's unlikely overambition or getting too many men ahead of the ball will cost us. We've got a big performance in us on these occasions every now and then - think Paris or Amsterdam. We may dig in for the night, park the bus and frustrate Italy with a bit of luck. Italy are prone to bouts of overconfidence at times. You better believe we're going to need both a huge defensive display and a disappointing Italian one to get anything from tonight.
It's possible of course. But if Jumpthefence were a betting man, we'd wager on very little possession for green shirts, scrappiness being the default and something in the line of a hard-fought 1-0/2-0 win for the Italians, depending on their mood and form. We'll be game but there are too many limitations, especially in the midfield, to expect much more.