Missing 2 defenders, Italy relying on its midfield
With its defense deprived of two key players, Italy at least can still count on a quality midfield for its European Championship opener against Spain on Sunday.
Preparing to switch to a 3-5-2 lineup for the Group C match, coach Cesare Prandelli has decided to stress his squad's strong point.
Andrea Pirlo, Daniele De Rossi, Thiago Motta, Claudio Marchisio and Riccardo Montolivo are standout midfielders with their clubs.
''We've got players with technical qualities who could play for any squad in the world,'' Motta said Thursday. ''Players with good feet, who know what to do with the ball.''
With Andrea Barzagli injured and fellow defender Domenico Criscito dropped from the squad after being placed under investigation for alleged match-fixing, De Rossi will probably be moved back to central defense. But Prandelli says he will simply be an ''extra midfielder.''
Other midfield options include Antonio Nocerino, who just concluded a breakthrough season with AC Milan with 10 goals, and Emanuele Giaccherini, who contributed to Juventus winning the Serie A title.
Fullback Christian Maggio will likely be moved up the midfield line, and Pirlo and Marchisio also appear to be sure starters, leaving Motta, Montolivo and Giaccherini to battle for the other spots.
''We're testing a lot of different options, because we've got players who can change formations on the fly,'' Giaccherini said. ''I'm comfortable out wide in the 3-5-2. ... It's a position where you've got to sacrifice yourself a lot, because you've got to run up and down the entire flank, but I've got both the physical and technical characteristics to do it.''
Pirlo sat out part of training Wednesday with a bruised right calf, but was back with his teammates Thursday.
At 33, Pirlo showed with Juventus last season that he is still at his best despite being discarded by Milan a year ago. He played in virtually every match for Juve and was at the heart of the title run.
''Pirlo is fundamental for this squad,'' Motta said. ''He always has his head up and sees teammates' movements before others.''
The Brazilian-born Motta has made eight appearances and scored one goal for the Azzurri - in a 1-0 win over Slovenia in qualifying last year. He left Inter Milan for Paris Saint-Germain in January and coach Carlo Ancelotti has used him as a sort of Pirlo, who directs the squad.
Playing alongside Pirlo, Motta has more room to operate.
''It doesn't matter if I play in front of the defense, on the left or the right or further forward. Wherever it is, I feel comfortable,'' Motta said. ''Prandelli always asks us to play with the ball, but whether it's beautiful play or not isn't what matters in the end, what matters is winning.''
Against Spain, Italy will face an equally - if not more - talented midfield, with standouts like Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta.
''We all know how Spain plays, but to understand that before the match is one thing, and then going out on the pitch and preventing them from playing like that is something else completely,'' said Motta, who also once played for Barcelona. ''We've got to show from the start that we can win this match.
''The important thing is that all 11 players on the pitch are always running and trying to get the ball back,'' Motta said. ''That's modern football and that's how all the modern teams play.''