After an emotional, successful, and almost-undefeated season, Juventus' best Italian players were back in action on Sunday in a mouth-watering clash against the Euro- and World-defending champions Spain.
In the midst of a match-fixing scandal that has rocked the country and, more importantly, tried to directly impact the focus of the Azzurri, Prandelli's man had to face the heavy favorite to win the European Championship in the first match for both teams at the tournament. At the end of 90 minutes, they took home a deserved draw and walked off the pitch with their heads high and confidence restored. Well, at least till the game against Croatia. Let's take a look at how ItalJuve did against Spain.
As expected, Buffon, Chiellini, Bonucci, Pirlo, and Marchisio all started the game for Italy as they are the best the country has in their positions. In a bit of a surprise move, Prandelli also inserted Giaccherini in the starting line up as a wing back, nonetheless, for whom this was the first official Italian game ever. Little trivia: the last time these two nations met at the European Championship back in 2008, Giaccherini was on loan at Pavia in the Italian third tier (thanks Sampath)! Since Barzagli was injured for the game, Danielle De Rossi was sloted in between Chiellini and Bonucci for a rare-at-a-tournament 3 man defense. Juve style all the way, baby!
What started as a fairly even match turned in to a bit of a surprise for everyone with Italy leading the way for most of the first half. Looking unfazed by Spain's reputation and recent success, gli Azzurri moved very well, attacked dangerously through both the flanks and the middle, and created chances that no one thought they had in them!
The reward came in the second half after Di Natale came on for the ever-troubling Baloteli. Pirlo provided Toto with a beautiful through ball, putting him one on one with Casillas who was helpless against the first time shot by the man from Udine. The goal was very reminiscent of Del Piero's game-sealing overtime goal against Germany in the 2006 World Cup - first shot curl to the far post with the inside of the right foot. Del Piero's goal, was, of course, much better that Toto's, but they both count the same!
As soon as Italy scored, Spain woke up. Playing without a striker, they created a lovely chance in Italy's box just minutes later enabling Fabregas to score and equalize. From then on Spain pushed for the winning goal but was wasteful and often denied by Gigi Buffon. Let's break down the ItalJuve performances real quick:
Buffon: 7.5 - Italy's defense was very solid for most of the match, despite De Rossi's unnatural center back position. Heck, while we're at it, De Rossi was pretty much my man of match as he handled the responsibility admirably and really served as the guy Prandelli wanted - a great defender who was also the link between defense and midfield. In any case, when the defense didn't close down fast enough, Buffon was there to keep the ball out of the net. Except for the Fabregas goal in which he couldn't do much, he was spectacular and once again served as an anchor for this team defensively. Best moment - his anticipation of Torres' move to go around him and pretty much outdribbling him for the ball in a one-on-one. Priceless.
Chiellini: 7 - It may be that I watched the game with a group of people so I couldn't really pay attention to most players individually, but I felt like Chiellini covered a lot of ground against Spain. He did his usual job well in the back, but was also outstanding at moving up and closing down moves before they developed too far into Italy's 16.
Bonucci: 7 - A very similar game to Chiellini it seemed, though this must not be as natural for him as for Kaiser Giorgio. After all, he lacks experience on the big international stage, but he made all that up well by working well with his teammates in the back.
Pirlo: 7.5 - Italy's national secret is that most moves will have to go through Pirlo if they are to count on any success in Poland/Ukraine (sound familiar?). And still, a midfielder-packed Espana couldn't shut Pirlo down and allowed him to create Italy's goal. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how good of a player this man is. I thought his decision to surprise Casillas on the free kick and not go over the wall was a great one as well. A great game by il Professore!
Marchisio: 7.5 - Despite what I read from other writers and blogs, I thought Marchisio had a helluva game against the Spaniards. He was everywhere - supplementing the attack, recovering the ball, and defending when Spain tiki-takad their asses towards Buffon. An orgasmic volley could've really capped this performance but Casillas was well positioned. Claudio is slowly becoming as invaluable to this Italian manschaft as Pirlo is at the moment. And I love seeing it happen in front of our eyes.
Giaccherini: 7 - In his Italian debut he showed for the first time what all of our Juve fans know already - this little guy is a constantly-running turbo engine (okay maybe not like a V12, but definitely a V6 TDI). Ran the most out of any Italian player, worked his butt off, and handled the wing-back position as well as he could've. In many ways, he was the perfect player to use in a game against the technically sound but physically weak Spaniards. Curious to see if he sticks around for the Croatia game as a starter as well.
Giovinco: 6 - I'm not calling him the half-man because he is short and looks like an ant. Seriously! I only used the term since he is co-owned by Juventus and Parma (which apparently Marotta is working on changing, one way or another). The sub cameo performance by the Atomic Ant was anything but memorable. He just never found a way to impact the game in the short time he was out there. Maybe if Balotelli keeps walking the ball for 30 seconds in Spain's box little Seba will see more time on the pitch. I'd actually really like to see that.
Italy's chances seem a bit more optimistic now that they took a point from a game most considered Spain's to win, but don't be fooled - my former-Yugoslavian "neighbors" will make Italy suffer. Croatia is always dangerous, no matter what "generation" of players they have at a tournament. It may not be Boban, Prosinecki, and Suker out there, but Srna, Modric, and Jelavic can be just as nasty on the right day. Should be a spectacular match, one Italy must win if they want to go through to the final 8 without too many issues.
As you've already guessed, we'll have a recap of our Juventini in that match as well here on Juventus Nation. Let's hope it won't be the second-to-last time we'll do that in this summer's Euros!