Soccer: Italy 'must up game' to get to Brazil
Prandelli disappointed at slip-ups in Argentina loss16 August, 17:44
(ANSA) - Rome, August 16 - Italy will need to up their game from the error-strewn defeat to Argentina at the Olimpico Wednesday if they want to be sure of qualifying for next year's World Cup in Brazil, says coach Cesare Prandelli. "Ok, we were up against an excellent team, but our performance wasn't what I'd been expecting given our fine showing in the Confederations Cup and we'll have to fix a few things for the (upcoming) qualifiers against Bulgaria and Czech Republic," he said.
He was disappointed at the string of slip-ups that cost his side a 2-1 defeat to the Argentines - though he said the two-time world champs had proved they were "one of the best teams in the world".
Italy's defence, based on the formidable Juventus back four that notched a near-record number of clean sheets on their way to the Turin giants's 28th Serie A title, was surprisingly vulnerable against the highly mobile Argentine attack despite the South Americans' being deprived of their top player, world No.1 Lionel Messi, through injury.
The attack, too, looked toothless, with Pablo Osvaldo dominated by the physically intimidating Argentine back four and the absence of AC Milan star Mario Balotelli, another injury casualty, sorely felt.
New Sunderland signing from Juve Emmanuele Giaccherini was lack-lustre, his wing forays easily snuffed out in contrast to the rampant incursions that gained widespread plaudits in the Confed Cup, where he helped Italy give world and European champs Spain a mighty scare before going out on penalties to the Furia Roja in the semi-final.
The Azzurri also badly missed the inspirational creativity of Andrea Pirlo, the veteran deep-lying playmaker who has been Italy's standout in recent years and came close to being voted player of the tournament at last year's Euros. "Hopefully with Mario (Balotelli) and Andrea (Pirlo) back we'll find our way forward again," said Prandelli, contrasting the free-flowing and eye-pleasing passing game he has instilled into his players with the often-stilted football they managed against the Argentines. After coming third in the Confed Cup, Prandelli was hoping the match would be a handy test ahead of the qualifiers against Bulgaria and Czech Republic, despite its official, and potentially distracting, billing as a tribute to soccer-loving Argentine Pope Francis.
"It was a special game in honour of a great spiritual leader but we had to see it as a gauge of where we are now too," Prandelli said.
"Some may have thought we wouldn't be contending in earnest because we were out to please the pontiff but I can assure you that was not the case".
Italy are notoriously laid-back in friendlies but Prandelli had urged his team to "shake off that reputation".
"This is a top game between top teams, boasting six World Cup titles between them," he said before the game.
"For sure, we'll be honouring the pope, but I'm expecting the lads to honour the gods of football too".
The Azzurri are top of European qualifying Group B for the World Cup with 14 points from six games, four more than second-placed Bulgaria and five more than third-placed Czech Republic.
They play the Bulgarians in Palermo on September 6 before taking on the Czechs in Turin on September 10.
Prandelli bemoaned a host of "mistakes" in the Argentina game.
Seemingly unfazed by the loss of four-time-straight world player of the year and Barcelona icon Messi, the Argentines scored twice through Gonzalo Higuain and Ever Banega before Napoli forward Lorenzo Insigne halved the deficit for the Italians.
Prandelli admitted his team were not at its best, gifting the South Americans a number of chances through poor defence, while the attack failed to click.
"And we met a team of great quality, one of the best in the world," Prandelli told RAI Sport. "We made mistakes coming out of defence and started badly, but in my view we moved the ball well. "We lacked that grit and finishing around the box that a team needs. "Credit to Argentina, as they are a very strong side.
"We have to qualify before talking about the World Cup and I want to get there quickly".
Prandelli used Roma midfielder Daniele De Rossi in an experimental back-four role in the match and he showed some Franz Beckenbauer-like touches in his new position - although a misplaced pass out of defence led to Argentina's opener. Despite that blot, which the Italian media latched onto vociferously, Prandelli defended the 30-year-old's debut in a largely unfamiliar part of the pitch.
"The experiment with De Rossi, if we want to call it that, went pretty well," Prandelli said.
The Italy coach also changed tactics for the game, playing less offensively than of late because of Argentina's ability to strike on the break - shown in both goals - and his players' lower fitness levels and lack of match practice at the highest level after the summer break.
But he said he was encouraged by the outcome in all areas apart from his team's ability to convert opportunities, stressing that most of his experiments paid off.
Young Napoli forward Insigne was one of the bright lights for Prandelli, despite ending up losing out to his new clubmate Iguain, a recent signing from Real Madrid to replace Edinson Cavani who joined PSG in the world's second-biggest deal ever.
Prandelli was also happy the match provided a "fitting gift" to Pope Francis, a card-carrying fan of Buenois Aires club San Lorenzo, noting the turnout was unexpectedly big given the steamy heat in a Rome deserted by droves of residents for the traditional high-summer Ferragosto getaway on Thursday.
The Tuscan coach, who met the pope along with the teams Tuesday, underscored the family-friendly atmosphere Francis had wished for.
"We all wanted this friendly and I am happy because we saw so many children and families in the stadium. "It wasn't easy to bring 40,000 people to the stadium on August 14, so it means the message was received".