Italy. Home of Catenaccio, of defensive football, of a system so boring you fall asleep waiting for the ball to advance down the field. This is the narrative, my friends -- it is only your own eyes that deceive you. The real azzurri are defensively perfect. And this will be what commentators, at least those speaking English, will repeat again and again as Euro 2012 plays out.
So the 3-0 loss to Russia on Friday night must be an aberration. A slip, caused by the fact that Gianluigi Buffon came off at halftime, a precautionary measure to rest his shoulder. If it hadn't been Morgan De Sanctis in goal, everything would have been just fine. But, despite a certain error from De Sanctis, the blame for Italy's loss cannot be pinned on the keeper.
The problem is, defensive football requires, well, a defence. And that's what Italy were lacking in Switzerland. The side were fine in attack, even beautiful at times. Andrea Pirlo was flawless, Mario Balotelli lively. But Russia, quick on the counter, were easily able to get through the attack-minded midfield to weave their way through gaping holes in the defence. Had Buffon not come through with a few terrific sides, Russia would have been leading at the break.
And then the inevitable goal. Alan Dzagoev sent the ball in from the right side. Roman Shirokov touched it on to Aleksander Kerzhakov, who turned to see the complete absence of azzurri defenders standing in his way. While Italia supporters might say that Saint Gigi would have managed to stop the ball, there was nothing De Sanctis could do as the shot nestled into the far corner.
Alas, the second goal can be blamed on the Napoli keeper. De Sanctis, coming out to challenge for the ball, failed miserably. Instead Andrei Arshavin slotted over to Shirokov, who neatly blasted it into the open net. Tsk, tsk, Morgan, but where was your clubmate, Christian Maggio, who should've never allowed that ball in in the first place?
Maggio, so splendid in attack, can bear a bit of the blame (ok, maybe more than a bit) for the third goal as well. Substitute Alexander Kokorin sent in a shot that Maggio failed to clear, with the ball looping down to allow Shirokov to tap in his second. Perhaps we should face the facts, and realise that Maggio is now a much better wingback than he is a fullback?
So an easy day on the pitch for Russia, but they've likely never been too worried about emerging from Group A. It's Italy that draws the focus in this one, because it's Italy that should be looking much better. Instead, they're unraveling at the seams, and if Prandelli doesn't find a way to pull the strings over the next week, they might be facing an embarrassment on par with the 2010 World Cup.