Much of the pre-game attention was on whether or not the crowd would behave themselves, with some ugly scenes involving supporters and the police to follow on from the farce that was Italy’s abandoned tie with Serbia in October last year. If Prandelli was in charge of crowd control, however, there would have been no problems, with the veteran Coach laying down the law this week and dropping Daniele De Rossi and Mario Balotelli after their disciplinary problems.
Italy’s team sheet looked to be short of a star name as many of the Azzurri’s faltering World Cup squad were replaced by a new, inexperienced breed, with skipper Gigi Buffon and Georgio Chiellini the only remaining old guard. However, his results cannot be argued with, as the Italians remain undefeated in the qualifying stages. Slovenia lacked a household name of their own but have looked an impressive unit as of late under Matjaž Kek.
Prandelli spoke in midweek about the importance of his front two firing on all cylinders if they were to take anything from this tough away clash. In Antonio Cassano and Gianpaolo Pazzini he has a pair used to playing with one another from their days at Sampdoria and were looking to rediscover their old understanding despite now finding themselves either side of the Milan divide. Cassano, wearing the famous Azzurri No 10 shirt looked to play the trequartista role which the shirt demands, dropping deep and pulling the strings, however he was outshone by his lively opposite number Valter Birsa for much of the first-half.
Slovenia certainly looked to get the ball down and play, with some very technically adept players in their ranks and FC Koln hot-shot Milivoje Novakovic leading the line, however they struggled to get an effective effort off on goal for much of the tie.
Italy came out the far better in the second half, testing Samir Handanovic twice in quick succession before the tempo slowed again. The Azzurri midfield, without the creativity and passing ability of Andrea Pirlo and De Rossi failed to move the ball nearly quickly enough to penetrate Slovenia. Full-backs Federico Balzaretti and Christian Maggio looked to give their side width and provide Pazzini with some good service but struggled to isolate their Slovenian counterparts, highlighting the deficiencies of the diamond formation.
Holding midfielder Motta, making his debut as a repatriated Italian, spent much of the game camped in front of his back four and looked a highly unlikely source for the opening goal, but after a simple one-two with Balzaretti and a rifled left footed strike the deadlock was broken.
As the game moved into the final 10 minutes Slovenia struggled to find a route to goal with the Juventus trio of Leonardo Bonucci, Chiellini and Buffon all looking particularly solid and sealing a clean sheet and a gritty 1-0 victory to send them comfortably top of Group C as Prandelli’s rebuilding efforts continue.