Talk of golden generation is often about in tournament summers but scorn can be poured in equal measures on International teams. This page stopped short of calling this k outfit the worst Azzuri side in years but there is still the potential for them to put egg on many people’s faces, mine included, when they face World Champions Germany today.
Die Nationalmannschaft started the tournament as second favourites – much like their World Cup campaign – but were functional through the early stage of the tournament, much like the two years ago, going top of Group C with seven points after three performances in which one could say they did the bare minimum. They have dominated possession in all three of their games so far, but only truly dominated against a Northern Ireland side posing a fantastic rearguard threat (although dominate they did with a remarkable 28 shots on target somehow only producing the one goal thanks to Michael McGovern’s heroics).
That said, the arrival of Mario Gomez upfront gave a focal point aht so many of their moves have been missing through the tournament with Thomas Muller back into a more central role which has given him the threat that he held for Bayern back. Against Slovakia Germany were much improved and appeared to carry a never ending threat that was looking set to break through Jan Kozak’s men before Jerome Boateng’s eight minute long range strike and they could have doubled their three goal winning margin.
Most impressive in that game was Julian Draxler, who pulled Slovakia apart and was deserving of a goal to cap and outstanding performance although Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira are working in tandem perfectly to supply Mezut Ozil.
Italy’s success against Belgium and especially Spain came through challenging the midfield dominance of those two nations through interrupting simple passing moves, harassing deep lying midfielders, and of course stifling a source of effective through balls to the forward. Antonio Conte’s men were widely expected to use a reactive gameplan against Spain but were on top of the ball from the first minute and if anything, would have been well ahead had it not been for the heroics of David De Gea from the first to last minute.
The use of Mattia de Sciglio and Alessandro Florenzi overwhelmed the Spanish, put off their rhythm early, and the speed of transition from 3-5-2 had a side that looked as threatening to Spain as any during the tournament, a serious statement of intent given that they have the best rearguard in the tournament – who are yet to ceded a goal when playing together.
The big snag for them is the double whammy of losing both Daniele De Rossi and Thiago Motta, a huge loss against one of the most accomplished midfields left in the tournament with Antonio Candreva still absent. Whilst nobody doubts the uniform standard of the Azzuri’s unity – nor the interplay of Eder and Graziano Pelle – it may be fair to assume that Italy will revert more to type in Bordeaux, playing a reactive brand of football that seeks to take advantage of temporary weaknesses should they overcommit.
The feeling having weighed all of this is up is that Germany are far too short for a victory in 90 minutes but the two absences in midfield are a huge blow to their chances of implementing the same strategy upon a much more confident and fresher German side than the Spain outfit they faced on Monday. For this, the draw makes most appeal although the price on Italy to qualify appeals as being too big.
If they do so, then Leonardo Bouncci, their man of the tournament so far, is worth backing for man of the match honours at a very big 20/1.
1 pt Italy to Qualify (8/5 general)
1 pt Draw (2/1 general)
1 pt Leonardo Bouncci Man Of The Match (20/1 general)