The two UEFA qualifying group winners in Group F have disappointed, combining for three points through two matches. However, because of the lack of a dominant team amongst the group, each of Italy and Slovakia still have a chance to advance to the knockout stage, with the Italians still within reach of the group lead.
Each team has a glaring problem, and the one that does the most to address it on Thursday is likely to advance. Italy has had troubles converting their build-up play into good chances, while Slovakia has had no presence in midfield. For Italy, the problem may be more difficult to solve, with talent being the possible problem. For Slovakia, having Marek Hamsik at their disposal, talent is not an issue.
Italy, Going Forward: The Azzurri have been unable to finish off the chances they’re creating, which have been half-chances, at best. In the middle of the field Italy’s movement and passing are great. They have no problems getting into attack. In the final third, however, they have lacked imagination, their typical final movement being a cross from the wings that innocently goes through the box.
There has been speculation that Marcello Lippi will go to a 4-3-3 in an attempt to solve this problem, but given the success Italy has had in the middle of the pitch, the problem may be who Lippi’s playing, not how. Regardless, if the 4-3-3 means getting Antonio Di Natale or Giampaulo Pazzini more time, Italy should have a greater chance of scoring goals.
Slovakia, Going Forward: For all the problems Italy’s had, Slovakia’s had more, because whereas Italy has at least had strong build-up play, Slovakia’s had nothing. Their midfield, with the exception of Vladimir Weiss, has been disappointing, unable to create a chance against Paraguay until the 92nd minute. Italy has not been playing as well at the back as Paraguay has; however, Slovakia has been so poor that Italy need not do so in order to keep a clean sheet against the Slovaks.
Marek Hamsik needs to play better. Where Italy was going to be difficult to get three points from under the best of circumstances, Slovakia has little chance if their best player continues to have no impact on this tournament. Needing to win, Slovakia now needs more than just an awakening from their captain. They likely need a dominant performance from their best player if they are to advance.
How The Match Turns: Unless Slovakia’s midfield wakes up, it’s only a matter of time until a persistent Italy attack is given enough opportunities by (what has been) a poor Slovakia defense. Italy may solve their attacking problems in this match as the Slovaks given them more opportunities than they saw against New Zealand and Paraguay. If Slovakia can get strong play in the middle of pitch, they can limit the number of Italy’s attacking opportunities, but there is little from this tournament that says that will happen.