The Azzurri were on Friday nnight held to their first draw of Prandelli’s tenure at Windsor Park, a venue where both England and Spain have lost in recent times and Italy had lost and drawn their previous games. It failed to prove third time lucky for the Azzurri despite controlling the game for long periods and creating many opportunities to score. Northern Ireland had chances of their own with Healy missing a header that you would have expected the target man to score with ease and Davis coming close towards the end of the game only to be denied by Viviano. If either of these chances had been converted the headlines in the Italian papers would have been quite different today.
Coming into the game a draw would not have been the worst result for Italy but considering the amount of scoring chances that went amiss Prandelli will be disappointed they did not claim all 3 points. However, there were certainly some positives to be taken from the game.
The Italian defence will be content with a clean sheet and Chiellini continued his solid performances and should have scored with a headed chance as his partnership with Bonucci continues to grow. Their recent encouraging performances together for club side Juventus away to Man City and Inter no doubt giving them plenty of confidence. Full backs Cassani and Criscito were also impressive and looked reliable in defence, Cassani in particular with some vital headed interventions.
As expected the Italy midfield controlled the game, Pirlo playing the main orchestrator. Stefano Mauri played his first game for the Azzurri in 3 years and continued his good form for Lazio with an impressive performance on the left of the midfield trident. If he can keep this level of quality in his performances for Lazio throughout the season he will prove a very useful alternative to Montolivo in midfield. Daniele de Rossi had an indifferent game. There is no doubting the Roma ace’s ability but it seems lack of concentration sometimes creeps into his game and this is something that clearly needs to be eradicated.
Attack is perhaps the area where most questions have yet to be answered if this Azzurri team are to return to their place at the elite of international game. Cassano didn’t reach the levels demonstrated in the first two group games. His influence on the game did increase in the second half but it proved too little to late. Prandelli will be hoping this was a one off as he is without doubt the Azzurri’s most creative threat in the last third.
On the right side of the attack Prandelli decided to play the Juventus workhorse Pepe and his performance last night continued to prove the doubters right. The wide man found himself in very useful positions on numerous occasions but failed to capitalise on these and his final delivery was rarely up to scratch. Balotelli is clearly the player that Prandelli has in mind for that right sided position and if he recovers successfully from injury will surely claim that slot in the team. In the meantime the in-form Villareal forward Giuseppe Rossi needs to start for the Azzurri.
The main concern for Prandelli is that after four games at the helm he hasn’t found a prima punta that will score the goals that this Azzurri team requires. Amauri, Gilardino, Pazzini and finally Borriello last night have all been given their chances and none of them have been particularly impressive. Borriello, much like Pepe cannot be criticised for his work rate but quite clearly does not look an international class player and it is difficult to see Prandelli starting him against Serbia on Tuesday.
3 points in Belfast would have really placed Italy in pole position with Serbia and Slovenia struggling so far but the fact remains that the Azzurri are top of Group C. Italy will host an under pressure Serbia side on Tuesday and a home win in that game is vital for the Azzurri in a group that is looking extremely competitive.
You can see the full schedule of Euro 2012 Qualifying matches here.