How Italy experimented with their tactics and strategies as they registered yet another memorable run in a major tournament.
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Vicente Del Bosque had an option of either going with Fernando Torres, Alvaro Negredo or Fernando Llorente upfront but instead deployed Cesc Fabregas as a `False 9` against Italy. On the other hand, Cesare Prandelli went with the unusual 3-5-2 system, which meant Daniele De Rossi played a deeper role and Emanuele Giaccherini and Christian Maggio filled in as wing backs.
Spain, understandably, shared the greater possession but couldn`t score a goal, with a formation which was rather narrow and had no spearhead front men. The Italians led the tactical battle as their defense coped with a slightly deeper Spanish frontline with ease. The wing-backs of Italy enjoyed greater freedom as they were neither threatened by the full backs nor the midfield men, who, as earlier said, were playing quite narrow.
Upfront Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli combined efficiently as they swapped positions regularly and worked tirelessly through the channels; often putting the center-backs, especially Sergio Ramos, out of position. And the goal finally came when Di Natale was brought on as a second half substitute as he efficiently finished a through ball threaded by Andrea Pirlo.
Spain`s equalizer came minutes later, but was somewhat out of the blue, as for once David Silva and Cesc Fabregas managed to combine beautifully, with the latter netting the goal. However, their attacking threat was only enhanced when Fernando Torres was brought into the fray and Jesus Navas added some much needed width. Italy, suddenly, found difficulty in coping up with their lesser bodies in defense and had it not been for Buffon`s composure and Torres` lack of confidence infront of the goal, Spain could have clinched the tie.
The Italians, however, did get the better of Spain for the larger part of the match, with Spain lacking penetration and the goal-scoring edge.
Italy opted to retain the same formation (3-5-2) as they used against Croatia but unlike in the game against Spain, they enjoyed a greater share of possession early in the match. Croatia sat deeper with the likes of Modric playing a more defensive role and despite their man advantage at the flanks, they couldn`t quite make any proper in-roads.
Pirlo formed the focal point of the midfield and once Mandzukic moved higher up the pitch, the space opened up for Pirlo to operate with more freedom. And quite rightly he opened the scoring, although via a dead ball situation.
Danijel Pranjic entered the fray for Perisic later on and some good work down the flank led to Strinic providing a good cross, and a lapse in concentration from Chiellini meant Croatia were back on level terms through a Mandzukic goal.
Vs Republic Of Ireland
Italy reverted back to four at the back (in a 4-3-1-2 formation), with Ignazio Abate making his first appearance possibly due to a cautious approach to seal progression through to the quarters. Up front Balotelli was dropped in favour of Di Natale.
It was pretty much a straight forward encounter, although the Irish defense did manage to pacify Pirlo in the first half. Goals from the Cassano and later from Balotelli as substitute ensured a 2-0 victory.
Quarter Finals Vs England
Cesare Prandelli recalled Riccardo Montolivo to play in this fixture at the tip of a diamond formation (shape similar to the one against Germany shown below); partly because of Thiago Motta`s fitness. Chiellini was injured during the encounter against Ireland and hence the back four consisted of Balzaretti, Barzagli, Bonucci and Abate this time around.
Pirlo again was the centre of all activity as he orchestrated the game, forcing England to retreat to a containing mode.
However, poor finishing by the Italians, meant they couldn`t take advantage of their tactical lead and eventually the match was dragged to the penalties.
Nevertheless, they did keep their nerves and overcame the English challenge to book a spot into the semis.
Semi-Final Vs Germany
Prandelli stuck with his his diamond system in the semis too. Giorgio Chiellini returned at left-back, but Ignazio Abate fitness concern meant Federico Balzaretti moved over to an unfamiliar right-back role.
Tony Kroos was used to cover Pirlo in the midfield but the move slightly backfired as he dropped too deep and it hindered Germany`s attacking progress. Pirlo was once again making a statement and he was well aided by Daniele De Rossi in his defensive duties. He eventually managed more freedom to play the balls to the flanks, one of which was beautifully worked out by Cassano and a pin-point cross from him led to the first Balotelli goal.
Soon a Phillip Lahm mistake, allowed the Manchester City man a one on one with Manuel Neuer and he made no mistake in completing his brace. In the second half, Alessandro Diamanti and Thiago Motta were brought on, who played slightly deeper roles, which helped in nullifying any possible German come-back. Mesut Ozil`s late penalty was too little too late.