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Prandelli: Restoring the Pride in La Nazionale

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How Cesare Prandelli's reign as Italy's head coach has given the Azzurri new life.

AT THE LAST World Cup in South Africa, Italy were dumped out at the group stages in unceremonious circumstances.

In a group of life they found early tournament death. It would take more than a quick fix. It would take direction, leadership, and new ideas to make them relevant in the world of football again. A place where they have earned theright to be, following their illustrious history in the World Cup, which they first picked up 80 years ago.

In 2006, when Italy triumphed in Berlin to claim their fourth World Cup, they ended 16 years of pain, misfortune and penalty failures.

At Italia 90’ as hosts, they made it all the way to the semi-final before conceding their first goal to Argentina, who ultimately eliminated the Azzurri on penalties, a game inexplicably played at the Stadio San Paolo (where the Neapolitans worshipped Maradona).

Four years later, Roberto Baggio carried Italy to an all-star final against Brazil with both teams vying for their fourth star. Following an intense draw, the lottery of penalty kicks again decided Italy’s fate, with the divine ponytail’s skied effort expanding the scars carved open four years earlier.

Luigi Di Biagio was the next individual to feel the weight of the nation, as he crashed his decisive penalty against the cross-bar against host nation France in 98’, following a 0-0 encounter, sparking a new footballing rivalry.

By Japan & South Korea 2002, the tifosi could be forgiven for expecting some tournament luck, especially after their heart-breaking golden goal loss to the world champions France, in the previous Euro’s. However, they may have been better off staying at home than facing the Ecuadorian referee Byron Moreno, who later served over two years in prison for smuggling heroin.

Despite being level on five points with Sweden and Denmark, Italy failed to progress out of their group in Portugal 2004, but two years later their time would finally arrive to be crowned world champions again. Led by a core of Juventini and former bianconeri manager Marcelo Lippi, the Azzurri finally reached the mountain top. The ruthless silver-haired cigar smoker, who abused Baggio’s talent at Juventus and Inter, had the mental fortitude to overcome all the obstacles the biggest show on earth could offer; Daniele De Rossi’s red card, the Zaccardo/Grosso issue, Materazzi’s ridiculous red card following Mark Bresciano’s simulation, Germany on their home soil, and then of course France with another penalty shoot-out.

Following a brief departure, Lippi returned to the helm for Italy’s most humiliating World Cup in their history, as they finished bottom of a group consisting of Paraguay, Slovakia and New Zealand. A stubborn champion, Lippi refused to call upon inform number 10s such as Antonio Cassano and Fabrizio Miccoli. And without that invention, his decision to leave home Giuseppe Rossi in the final hour was almost unforgivable. Antonio Di Natale, a valid forward selection, donned the number 10 shirt, which confirmed the dearth of creativity. The creative burden was squarely on the shoulders of Andrea Pirlo. Unfortunately, once the talisman succumbed to injury, alongside the irreplaceable custodian Gianluigi Buffon, the Azzurri were set up to fail.

Italy deserved more from Lippi in his second spell, as he had robbed his country of their team. He has though, in his legacy, left the blue prints for success and failure.

His replacement, Cesare Prandelli had the colossal task to bring through the next generation of Italian players, whilst remaining competitive for a country that demands that the traditions of the blue shirt are being upheld. Il mister, not only stopped the bleeding from 2010, but led the Azzurri to the Euro 2012 final; restoring pride in La Nazionale and the number 10 shirt to a worthy fantasista (Cassano). His persistence for quality attacking football, selection via meritocracy, and professionalism have provided the solid foundations for the group to evolve.

Prandelli hasn’t been flawless though. In the Euro’s he failed to recruit any adequate replacements for Mario Balotelli; taking Fabio Borini to warm the bench. And despite a successful 3-5- 2 formation against Spain in the group opener, the tactician’s decision to revert to a back four in the final proved fatal. In addition, the abysmal results in friendly games, which are used to gage tactics and new players, placed Italy out of the top seeds and into their World Cup group of death.

The lack of experience and defensive quality in the current full-back roles appears to be Italy’s Achilles’ heel, and the coach will need to be decisive in ensuring that those that don’t measure up, like Zaccardo in 06’, are quickly replaced.

The promotion of exciting Azzurrini talents Ciro Immobile, Lorenzo Insigne and Marco Verratti have provided Prandelli with a much welcome depth to his attacking options, alongside the enigmatic Alessio Cerci, which validates the coach’s choice to leave behind a less than optimum Rossi.

With two podium finishes in Euro 2012 and the Confederations 2013, the former viola coach has undisputedly restored the pride back in La Nazionale. Outside of Italy, this group of players is not expected to compete for the World Cup. However, should Prandelli’s men negotiate a challenging Group D, there is no question that they could be a danger to any opponent.