Confederations Cup

Italy shows it's on the rise

2013-06-28 16:00
Leonardo Bonucci (Getty Images)
Fortaleza - No matter how Italy fares in Sunday's third-place match vs. Uruguay, the team heads home from the Confederations Cup with heads held high and aware it's a team on the rise with the World Cup a year away.

After threatening to draw level with host Brazil in its final group match, Italy outplayed World Cup holder Spain for long stretches Thursday — even without its top player Mario Balotelli — before falling 7-6 in a penalty shootout following a draining 0-0 draw.

"I take pride in what we've done," Italy captain Gianluigi Buffon said. "It's not a time to celebrate but I think a lot of people have appreciated the way we play."

The semi-final was nothing like last year's European Championship final, when Spain routed Italy 4-0.

"We went beyond expectations," Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini said. "We'll return to Brazil next year knowing that we can beat even Spain."

While the 35-year-old Buffon and the 34-year-old Andrea Pirlo still form the backbone of Italy's squad, coach Cesare Prandelli has rounded the team out with several players virtually unheard of outside Italy.

Players like winger Emanuele Giaccherini, who often doesn't even start at Juventus but who set up Balotelli's winner against Mexico and scored himself against Brazil.

Players like Christian Maggio, the only Napoli representative among the Azzurri, whose 80th-minute header and potential equalizer thundered off the crossbar vs. Brazil and whose first-half shot against Spain was stopped only with an expert reflex save from the Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas.

Players like Alessandro Diamanti, who toils in relative obscurity even inside Italy at Bologna but who shined for Italy at Euro 2012.

Prandelli has also asked for more out of Italy veterans like Daniele De Rossi and Chiellini.

Normally a midfielder, De Rossi played at centre back from the second half on vs. Spain, while Chiellini is occasionally moved from his usual centre back spot to fullback.

"I'm not Roberto Carlos but I give my all," Chiellini said memorably before Italy's first match vs. Mexico.

And then of course there's Balotelli, a player most managers have struggled to keep on course but someone who has always shown his best under Prandelli.

Balotelli was sent home with a strained left thigh after the 4-2 loss to Brazil and Italy could only imagine what the match vs. Spain would have been like if he had been healthy.

Balotelli's winner against Mexico displayed his rapidly improving talent and brute strength and his acrobatic volley setup of Giaccherini's goal vs. Brazil was a thing of beauty.

Balotelli is also Italy's top penalty taker. He has scored 18 out of 18 in his career with Italy, Inter Milan, Manchester City and AC Milan.

Italy could have used him in the shootout vs. Spain, when Leonardo Bonucci fired high to set up Jesus Navas' winner.

"Now I want to spend an entire year training from the penalty spot," Bonucci said.

"Because I don't want to repeat that at the World Cup.

"I approached the ball confidently but then when I saw that Casillas had guessed right I didn't have the necessary coolness and I tried to change my shot and lift the ball but I lifted it too much and you all saw what happened."

Giaccherini revealed that he was scheduled to take the seventh kick.

"But I didn't feel up to it and I asked Leo to kick it," he said.

Still, even Bonucci wasn't completely distraught.

After all, this is just the warm-up tournament for the World Cup.

"Our real error was that we should have won in the 90 minutes of regular time, because we played better than them but we just couldn't find the target," Bonucci said.

"We imposed our game on Spain by pressing and counterattacking.

"It was a good test, actually a great experience because we faced the best in the world here and we also realized what type of climate we're going to have in 12 months," Bonucci added.

"It's not like Europe here. You can fly for three hours to change cities but you're still in the same country."

Italy, however, is not the same squad it once was. It's a team on the rise.

Read more on:    confederations cup  |  soccer
NEXT ON SPORT24X

Sacked Moyes speaks out

52 minutes ago

 

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
2 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
Live Video Streaming
Video Highlights
Sport Talk

Vote

Who will emerge victorious in this year's Confederations Cup in Brazil?

 
 
Featured Blog

The stock of Bulls and Sharks 2014 Super Rugby jerseys are slowly becoming available after the festive season break, writes blogger Baylion.

Latest blogs
 

Twitter Follow Sport24 on Twitter

Newsletters Sign up for the Morning Glory, Super 15 and Soccer newsletters

Blogs Yes your opinion counts. Get it out there

WIN Enter and win with Sport24!

Mobile Sport24 on your mobile phone - WAP, alerts, downloads, services

BlackBerry Stay in the loop on your BlackBerry

iPhone Latest Sport24 news on your iPhone

Facebook "Like" Sport24's Facebook page

TV schedule Plan your couch time with our searchable sport TV guide

RSS Feeds Sport news delivered really simply.

 
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.