Jury still out for holders

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. This can certainly be said said for the Italian hound who has been a mainstay force to be reckoned with over the years, but which might finally be settling down for a long sleep. I expected much from them, but they showed very little to suggest they are capable of retaining their title.

But is it just a case of age? Well, based on who performed best for them the answer would seem to be no. Gianluca Zambrotta was a constant problem for the Paraguayans with his probing runs down the right hand side. Daniele De Rossi was looked as tidy as ever with a couple of intricate passes in the first half, and it was he who capitalised on some comic goalkeeping for the equaliser (though if truth be told even Heskey would have put it away.) And in the second half, Marco Camoranesi made a massive difference, creating a major headache for the opposition who didn’t quite work out where he was meant to be playing. The intelligence of these players cannot be questioned. But do the old warriors have the legs to pull through an entire tournament?

And do the new crop have what it takes to aid them? Again, there are more questions than answers to this. Juventus provide the team with a number of players who, to the novice football fan, were just names. Giorgio Chiellini and Claudio Marchisio are two such players who have been handed the task of replacing the powerhouses of Nesta and Perrotta. It is worth noting that the mighty Juventus could only muster sixth place in Serie A this season. This of course is not just down to Chiellini and Marchisio, but they were sure to have a hand. And then there were the likes of Domenico Criscito, Riccardo Montolivo and Simone Pepe, of whom much is expected for the holders. In fairness, Criscito had a good first half, and Pepe provided the team with a degree of width and something a bit different, but Montolivo, the playmaker for Fiorentina, only provided moments of quality rather than a sustained, driven performance. Can these players really take on the mantle and pass over the bar that has been set so high by the crop of 2006?

A final, major issue that seemed to be prevalent based on the opener was who is actually going to score goals for the reigning champions. Klose and Podolski score for fun at big events. Villa comes off the back of a Golden Boot from Euro 2008. England have Heskey. But for Italy the burden was placed firmly on the shoulders of Alberto Gilardino, a man who has just 16 international goals after 42 caps. He looked inept when up front on his own against a solid and well organised Paraguayan rearguard and was eventually replaced by Antonio di Natale, lethal at club level but again flattering to deceive for Italy with a return of just 9 goals. Vincenzo Iaquinta looked dangerous in the second half as a deep lying forward but is not an out and out goalscorer. The other options, Gianpaolo Pazzini and Fabio Quagliarella, are also questionable when playing for Italy.

There is no doubt that Italy retained their sense of rigid discipline and temperament that they have become synonomously associated with. But they do seem to be missing something, a bit of flair, a magic piece of skill, that the likes of Totti and Del Piero were able to provide four years ago.

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