Wednesday, June 24, 2009

From Calcio Italia

Italian fans have had to keep their heads down of late. It seems that our descent from World Champions to total laughing stock has been complete. Thank heavens for a little bit of sunshine from the normally chilly climes of Sweden.

It is not that the Under-21s have been brilliant at their European Championship, but simply that they have made progress. The Azzurrini remain unarguably the most successful national side at continental level. They may not win the tournament this year – it would be their sixth triumph – but at least they are in the hunt.

What has pleased me, personally, is not any individual performance but more the spirit of the team. They hung tough against Serbia for a point. Then they beat the host nation despite playing most of the match with 10 men. And finally they turned the ship around when they could easily have been sunk by Belarus.

It was supposed to be all about the attacking trio of Sebastian Giovinco, Robert Acquafresca and Mario Balotelli. Instead, I have been more impressed with the graft and organisation of the midfield and defence which has provided a vital platform. All credit to Gigi Casiraghi for that.

Of course, anything the young boys achieve cannot take away the pain of Confederations Cup humiliation, but it can send a powerful message to Marcello Lippi. Perhaps more of our youngsters are ready for battle than the wise old Coach suspected. Certainly, a few of them deserve their chance.

A World Cup winning side rarely shines four years on. Italy found out in 1986, so did France in 2002 and Brazil in 2006. It is vital, however, that you use that transitional period well. The Azzurrini have shown there is a crack of light appearing between the clouds. It is up to Lippi to find the way of capturing it – and using it to his best advantage.

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