Italy will not win this World Cup playing football in the same way that Spain can – they do not have the players. Free-flowing, creative football may be beautiful to watch, but realistically there are only one or two sides in the tournament capable of that level of play. In truth, the Machiavellian edict of “the end justifies the means” is the way Italy has to move forward. There are no prizes for style, as much as beautiful football is to be admired, but each coach has to pick the manner of play he believes gives his team the best chance of victory.
The last two friendlies against Switzerland and Mexico have shown that there is still much work to do but, even in the absence of Andrea Pirlo, the squad is still deeper than those of Paraguay, New Zealand and Slovakia. The question for Lippi is not about whether he can mask weaknesses in his own team as much as whether he can exploit the weaknesses in the opposition. There is, however, one player who has not been used to his full potential thus far. Daniele De Rossi, arguably the best player in the squad, continues to be deployed in a deep position. The Roma man has too much ability to act as a mere enforcer and could be used further forward to add his creativity and long-range shooting to the attack. If Lippi can get him surging forward as he does for i Lupi, De Rossi can be the extra threat the Azzurri need.
In fact, the trio of De Rossi, Claudio Marchisio and Antonio Di Natale played behind either Alberto Gilardino or Giampaolo Pazzini in a 4-2-3-1 formation would use the three midfielders currently in the best form. This set-up would also leave Gennaro Gattuso and Angelo Palombo to do the running in midfield, providing cover for any of the questionable pairings picked at centre-back. Lippi cannot try to replace Pirlo by deploying another player in his position as was tried with Riccardo Montolivo for a period against Switzerland. The Fiorentina man had to drop deep to get the ball and make the play but this is not his natural position. Lippi can try the same with De Rossi, Marchisio or any of the other midfielders – but nobody can do what the gifted Milan man does. The team has to adapt to cover the absence, not try and replace the player using the same system.
Unfortunately, second-guessing what Lippi is going to do is a game many have been trying since the former Juventus coach regained control over La Nazionale – their speculation yielding little success. The only certainty is Lippi will – for the most part – remain loyal to his players from 2006. But do players like Gianluca Zambrotta, who are sad, faded images of the superstars they once were, have enough left to give one last effort for their country? We shall soon find out as the time for complaint and hindsight is nearly at an end. All that is left is for the fans to support their team through whatever happens in the next four weeks. Twenty-three men have the expectations of all of Calcio resting on their shoulders and, whether or not we think their inclusion was correct, now all we can do is hope and pray that they can produce.
Forza Azzurri. Forza Italia.