World Cup doubts creep in for Italy amid rankings slip
Rome: After qualifying for the 2014 World Cup with two games to spare everything looked positive for Italy but doubts are creeping in after two poor displays mean they are set to miss out on a place among the top seeds in Brazil.
Coach Cesare Prandelli described the first 20 minutes of Tuesday`s 2-2 draw with Armenia in Naples as "embarrassing" following the same scoreline away to Denmark on Friday.
The defensive slip ups and periods of flagging concentration in both matches have been features of the campaign.
"We managed to qualify for the (2012) European Championship and the World Cup without losing, but if you come to the last two games already secure and thinking you don`t need much to do to win... well you always need to put in the same level of effort and intensity out on the pitch," said Prandelli.
Two victories would have guaranteed Italy`s place among the top seven seeds who will be confirmed when FIFA issues its latest world rankings on Thursday.
However, after a comfortable first 45 minutes in Copenhagen on Friday, Italy almost lost to two near identical Nicklas Bendtner goals and were lucky not to be further behind before Alberto Aquilani glanced in a last-gasp equaliser with his knee.
They started as poorly against Armenia as they had played after the break against the Danes and, while a raft of second-string players featured in the two games, the same signs of uncertainty had been there in September`s matches.
Only goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon stopped Bulgaria leaving Parma with more than a 1-0 defeat, while the performance in the 2-1 home win over the Czech Republic that secured qualification left a lot to be desired, especially at the back.
Their final two draws mean Italy are likely to have slipped from fourth in September`s rankings to a place outside the top seven teams who will be seeded in the December 6 World Cup draw along with hosts Brazil.
"We weren`t (top seeds) at the Euros either and, apart from anything else, there are always teams who do better than expected. I`m not worried and I`m certainly not disappointed," added Prandelli.
He will likely need Mario Balotelli to be on top of his game if Italy are to go as far as they did in 2012 when they reached the European Championship final, although the media circus that surrounds his leading striker is not helping matters.
The AC Milan forward showed his worth as a second-half substitute on Tuesday, netting a superbly taken equaliser and almost snatching a late winner after powering past half the Armenia team and shooting agonisingly wide.
But the intense glare of the Italian media seems to follow him wherever he goes and the 23-year-old is not reacting to it well, lashing out on social media and .
He appeared to shove a cameraman after arriving in Naples and was called an "imbecile" by leading anti-Mafia campaigner Rosaria Capacchione after a tweet in which he distanced himself from Gazzetta dello Sport`s suggestion that he should see himself as a role model in the fight against the Mafia.
After Tuesday`s match he stormed past reporters, stopping only to declare: "You speak badly of me, I score goals".
However, Prandelli spoke highly of a player he recently said it would be "unthinkable" to go to the World Cup without.
"Tonight I can only give him compliments on the way he came on to the pitch with the right attitude, motivated, charged up and convinced that he could help the team," he said after Tuesday`s match. "That`s what he always needs to be like."