Italy V Ireland: Will It Be Tears For Manchester City's Mario Balotelli?

Italy should be preparing for a routine victory against Ireland tonight, yet instead paranoia, injury and memories of the events at Euro 2004 are haunt the Azzuri..
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Italy should be preparing for a routine victory against Ireland tonight, yet instead paranoia, injury and memories of the events at Euro 2004 are haunt the Azzuri..

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Italy V Ireland Preview: Will It Be Tears For Manchester City's Mario Balotelli?

Gianluigi Buffon’s honest assessment on how football matches can find themselves heading towards a pre-determined conclusion could be put to the test in the final round of Group C game at Euro 2012.

When asked on the eve of the tournament to give his opinion on the investigation into betting on matches in Italy, the national team captain who has been around the professional game for many a long year, put the whole affair on whether matches are fixed into perspective with this not-so cryptic statement.

“It’s better to have two injured than one dead,” claimed the Juventus number one which basically suggested that if a certain result is of benefit to both teams then it is likely to come to fruition.

“It would be a joke all around Europe,” warned Buffon while Thiago Motta maintained that “professionalism” would win out on the day.

Il biscotto (the biscuit), which comes from the old practice of doping a horse with a biscuit or piece of cake before a race, has been a stable diet for a long time - and the thought that Spain and Croatia would attempt to carve out a cosy little 2-2 thus eliminating Italy without having to worry whether the Azzurri defeat Ireland or not has been occupying minds up and down the peninsula all weekend.

If all three teams were to arrive on five points, it will come down to goals scored in the head-to-heads so Italy’s 1-1 draws with Spain and Croatia would count against them.

In fact, many in Italy believe it will come to pass as both Spain and Croatia will be concerned that a demoralized Irish side under the guidance of an Italian Giovanni Trapattoni will offer little or no resistance to Cesare Prandelli’s men and so they will fashion out their sure-fire result.

Italy, of course, have memories of Euro 2004 in Portugal when they accused Denmark and Sweden of cooking up a Nordic nip and tuck to knock a Trapattoni-led Italy out at the group stage.

Back then, a last-minute mistake from Danish goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen presented Sweden with an equaliser for the self-same 2-2 final result which now haunts Italy - and has prompted the players to comment on the possibility of exiting the tournament in the same manner as eight years ago as footballing heresy.

“It would be a joke all around Europe,” warned Buffon while Thiago Motta maintained that “professionalism” would win out on the day.

Prandelli has stated that the 3-5-2 system will not change

They sounded more like the Machiavellian concept of voicing in public a potential conspiracy to encourage your enemy to change tact but in truth Italy find themselves in a stew of their own making – and rumblings of a potential fix only draws attention away from the team’s failure to keep their fate in their own hands.

After holding Spain to a draw where Prandelli produced some shrewd tactical changes at just the right moment against a more robust Croatia side he attempted the same trick by introducing the lightweight Antonio Di Natale in place of Mario Balotelli when it was clear that Antonio Cassano was the player incapable of overcoming the physical approach of the opposition.

The fact that Spain did not start with a striker also enabled the three-man defence, with Daniele De Rossi dropped back to occupy a position he had limited success with at his club AS Roma, to remain virtually unscathed until the introduction of Fernando Torres with 15 minutes to go.

Against Croatia there was no respite from the physical tussle which kept De Rossi pinned back deep inside his own half which in turn deprived Italy of another passing outlet apart from Andrea Pirlo in midfield.

Prandelli has stated that the 3-5-2 system will not change for the final game against an Irish side whose very approach is playing the ball long and hoping to get players forward in time to win the knockdown.

Seeing as defence is no longer the priority then better to push Pirlo further forward into the trequartista role which the Italians invented after all – and where the Juventus man started his career.

Failing that then Alessandro Diamanti should be given his chance in supporting the front-two. The former West Ham player loves the ball at his feet and with his sharp turns and quick passing then Cassano and Balotelli will have the service they need to create scoring chances.

Conspiracy theories on what Spain and Croatia may or may not cook up will mean nothing if Italy cannot find the back of the net at least once against a side that has already conceded seven goals in two games.

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