It was supposed to be the rebirth of Italy as Luigi Di Biagio set up his Italy side in an attacking formation to take the fight to an Argentina side which had rested its main protagonists. However, many of the same issues still lingered that saw them miss qualification for this year’s World Cup…and the root still lay within the impotency of the Italian strike force.
For Argentina, they set out with a more than capable side which would challenge most opponents, however, whilst absentees Messi and Aguero could only gaze from afar in the stands, the South Americans took the early initiative and had much the better of the first half. If it were not for Gigi Buffon parrying saves, Italy could well have seen in the interval spell, three to four goals down.
Both teams passed and moved with typical ease and although Italy started out uncompromisingly and uncharacteristically high up the field, they were soon pegged back into more familiar defensive stances and for the most part they held firm. All looked well for the Italians as the first half whistle blew, even Buffon and fellow Juventus teammate; Higuain exchanged embraces and smiles as both sets of players made their way to the half time dressing rooms.
Although this was a friendly, it was anything but, especially for Italy who had invested much energy and emphasis on the encounter and whom would wager all for a victory, or at the very least a draw to seek vindication for a failed World Cup presence not witnessed since 1958 in Sweden. A time long forgotten by most Italians and merely rejected to dusty history books.
Di Biagio had set up with a 4-3-3 formation with a mixture of experience and youth, even bringing back Buffon out of retirement as able lieutenant Donnarumma was still regarded as too young and inexperienced for international duty, although he was a regular starter for Milan. The young Chiesa in the front line battled away for most of the first half, however, Italy struggled to nail down their passing to create any clear opportunities, but there were indications that the recipe was nearly complete. As for Argentina, they defended resolutely and attacked with increasing prowess and could consider themselves unlucky not to have taken the lead on numerous occasions.
In the second half, Italy appeared to have come out of the blocks with a new sense of purpose, whilst Argentina continued to probe, their advances seemed less penetrative. Italy were on top and Verratti was finding his groove in midfield with some sublime passing too. The Italian strike force continued to make space and the game was starting to open up with each side making progressive forays into each opponent’s half. Although for the first 20 minutes Buffon was largely inconspicuous whilst his counterpart in the Argentina goal; Caballero was increasingly in the mix with some wayward clearances and distributions too.
Anyone watching could sense that the game would not likely end as a goalless affair and when Immobile and then Insigne both missed glorious opportunities to take the lead for Italy, it seemed only a matter of time before Argentina would strike. And so it was in the 75th minute that Banega scored as he found ample space at the edge of the Italian penalty area to slot past a flat footed Buffon.
Whilst Italy continued in their chase, by this time the game had opened up and there were spaces to exploit all over the field with both sets of players seeking to take advantage in any way they could. Italy had another two chances but once again failed to convert, then Argentina found space again in a thinned out Italian defence. The ball made its way to the Argentinian left hand side as West Ham’s Lanzini collected it on the edge of the penalty area, took a step to the right and his right footed blast sent the ball into the top corner of the net, leaving Buffon helpless to do anything about it.
As the final whistle blew all would gladly concur that the result was fair and that both teams had put on solid displays both in defence and attack, however, Argentina proved to be the more effective in front of goal, whilst Italy still struggled to convert full or half chances. Something which had been the story of their qualifying campaign.
As for Argentina, well this relatively straight forward victory would set them in good stead against their next opponents; Spain on Tuesday and would they will take comfort in knowing that their second tier team were able to overcome Italy, albeit still not functioning properly as Di Biagio would wish for and the whole of the Italian nation would pray for.
For the Italians, all hope is not lost as this is their first voyage into new waters under the admirable tutelage of Di Biagio. His offensive style would be pleasing to the eye if only the strikers would find accuracy in their shooting and the defensive stature is still present, albeit slightly more vulnerable against mightier opponents.
Italy next face England at Wembley on Tuesday and whilst many would expect for Italy to set up with the bus parked in front of their goal to counteract the spirited English advances, there might be a few more surprises in store as Di Biagio would continue to fine tune Italy’s attacking attempts and find the right balance within his team, both in terms of experience and talents too.
Buffon is likely to feature again, but one might expect Donnarumma to play a bit part also at some stage. The young guns; Chiesa and Crutone would likely play a half each again and Insigne and Immobile would lead the attacks in the first half at least, whilst the manager would ask Verratti to take a controlling interest much earlier in the game than he did against Argentina.
For the Italians, these are not so much friendlies, moreover they are medicinal as the nation tries to find a cure for its past woes. However, these are opportunities for the players and interim manager to find some common ground and to develop a system that would prove effective and long lasting. Even if Italy lose again, nobody should hit the panic buttons just yet as there is much to experiment with and many more trials to endure. However, the real business starts again in the autumn for the European qualifiers. Only at that stage can one really begin to analyse and pass judgement. This may have been an Italian tarantella dance that was drowned out by the Argentinian tango, but the band is still playing and as long as there is music…the dance will continue.