Analyzing its errors, Italy finds a mental problem

For a match and a half, everything seemed to be going so well

for Italy. So, what happened midway through the game with

Croatia?

In the immediate aftermath of the Italians’ disappointing 1-1

draw in their second match of the European Championship, coach

Cesare Prandelli alluded to physical problems after the opening

hour. But after taking the time to analyze video material, he came

to a different conclusion.

”It was the wrong mental approach,” Prandelli said. ”This

squad is born to play and if we move 20 meters backward and we

start thinking about defending a lead, we become a squad full of

fear.”

Italy had six shots on goal in the first half against Croatia –

including a goal from Andrea Pirlo – but just one in the second,

when Mario Mandzukic equalized after an uncharacteristic defensive

lapse by the Azzurri.

Italy largely sat back and defended its lead.

”I’m convinced that as Italians we’re capable of doing just the

opposite,” Prandelli said. ”We’re a people known for creativity

and quality. You can defend without abandoning your style of play –

always and no matter what the situation.”

Italy had also failed to defend a 1-0 lead in its opener against

defending champion Spain. Cesc Fabregas equalized three minutes

after substitute Antonio Di Natale’s second-half goal.

The two 1-1 draws have left Italy in difficulty entering its

final group match against Ireland. To advance, The Azzurri need to

win and hope that Spain and Croatia do not play out a high-scoring

draw.

Taking over from Marcello Lippi after Italy was eliminated in

the group phase of the 2010 World Cup, Prandelli led the Azzurri to

an unbeaten record in qualifying with eight wins and two draws – a

national record for a major tournament.

Italy scored 20 goals and conceded just two for the best

defensive record across the nine qualifying groups. The days of

Italy’s infamous ”catenaccio” – lockdown defense – seemed long

gone. Players were answering Prandelli’s calls for flair and to

press forward at every opportunity – while at the same time

defending as hard as ever.

”In a very short time, Prandelli has given this squad a

distinct personality and a high quality style of play,” wrote

former Italy coach Arrigo Sacchi in Saturday’s Gazzetta dello

Sport. ”The players have followed him, but it’s difficult to

abandon our old habits – defending and sitting back when you’re

winning.

”But Cesare shouldn’t be discouraged,” Sacchi added. ”He’s

got the right ideas and he’s on the right road, but the last thing

to be learned is the winning mentality. … Once our players

understand that playing our own game is the best way to negate the

opponent and the best way to impose our quality and the best way to

win, that’s when we’ll have acquired the right mentality.”

Italy had the right mentality against Spain and in the opening

half vs. Croatia, but the likes of Mario Balotelli, Antonio Cassano

and Claudio Marchisio missed one chance after another.

”That’s where we need to improve,” Marchisio said. ”When you

create so much, you have to score. We definitely wasted an

opportunity with Croatia. It’s to be expected that when you put in

a lot of effort you then have a drop in pace. But that’s when you

need to be more balanced to absorb the added fatigue.”

Former England coach Fabio Capello also analyzed Italy’s

failures.

”It’s a squad that creates a lot, but it doesn’t take advantage

and that could be a problem,” Capello told Italy’s Sky TV.

”(Cassano and Balotelli) always use the foil and never the

sword,” Capello added, using a common Italian cliche. ”They’re

talented players, players that can make an impact.”