Italy’s fate rests at feet of Spain and Croatia
Eight years ago, Antonio Cassano wept inconsolably as Italy
exited the European Championship without losing a match.
The striker knows the same nightmare situation could arise at
By surrendering the lead in a 1-1 draw with Croatia on Thursday,
Italy is third with two points in Group C with one match remaining
and no longer has its destiny in its own hands.
If Spain and Croatia – who both have four points – draw with a
score of 2-2 or higher on Monday, Italy will be eliminated even if
the team beats Ireland in the final round of group matches.
The scenario is similar to 2004 – the Azzurri beat Bulgaria in
their third group match but were eliminated after Sweden and
Denmark drew 2-2.
”There are going to be two teams of different levels facing
each other and Spain, which is the favorite, has players with a
pedigree that won’t allow them to be unsportsmanlike,” said Italy
goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who had the job of consoling Cassano
that night in Guimaraes after his teammate’s injury-time
Italy was coached by Giovanni Trapattoni in 2004 and, as fate
would have it, he is now in charge of an already-eliminated Ireland
team that is looking to salvage some pride in its last game after
two straight losses.
Italian media are speculating about a plot between Spain and
Croatia to eliminate the Azzurri, but current Italy coach Cesare
Prandelli wouldn’t be drawn into the debate.
”This is a controversy I have a hard time understanding,” he
said. ”Over the past 10 years, Spain has enthused the entire world
and everyone wants to copy them and you want me to think this squad
is contemplating a (plot against Italy)? Whoever does that has
problems. We don’t need to look for excuses.”
The Italians are not without hope.
If they win and the other match doesn’t end in a draw, they will
advance as the second-place team in the group. Or if Italy wins and
Spain-Croatia finishes 0-0, the Azzurri will win the group.
Alternatively, if Italy wins and Spain-Croatia finishes 1-1, the
Azzurri will advance if they beat Ireland by at least three goals
or by scores of 3-1 or 4-2 – based on a better UEFA ranking.
”We have the duty to believe until the end,” Prandelli said.
”We shouldn’t give in to this culture of skepticism. That’s what I
told the squad. We’ve got to think exclusively about Ireland.”
Italy could have avoided these last-match calculations, however,
if it hadn’t sat back after going in front against Croatia thanks
to Andrea Pirlo’s free kick at the end of the first half.
After having six shots on goal in the first half, they had only
one in the second.
”The first half was how we should always play, and the second
was how we should never play,” Italy midfielder Claudio Marchisio
said. ”We’ve got to figure out what happened. Our strikers weren’t
able to press forward anymore.”
That wasn’t the fault of Mario Balotelli or Cassano, Marchisio
”We’re all at fault, and the same goes for the match against
Spain,” he added, in reference to the 1-1 draw in Italy’s opening
game. ”This isn’t a tournament where you can draw, you’ve got to
close out matches here and win them.”
Marchisio disagreed with the analysis of Prandelli, who cited a
drop in energy and fitness after an hour.
”I don’t think so,” Marchisio said. ”I think we let up