When Claudio Marchisio compared Italy's current state to mid-season Juventus in his pre-game press conference on Sunday, he pretty hit the nail on the head. I mean, look at it this way: Italy were adjusting to a 3-5-2 formation, so were Juventus; Italy were creating scoring chances, so were Juventus; Italy were doing nothing but frustrating us and not picking up the full three points, so were Juventus.
See the similarities? I'm glad I'm not the only one.
But when push came to shove, the Azzurri got the result they needed to get — and some help from the Spaniards as well.
Italy's 2-0 win against Ireland certainly had that mid-season Juventus feel to it. Cesare Prandelli reverted to a 4-3-1-2 formation after going with the three-man defense in the first two group games. And at times, especially in the opening 30 minutes or so, the Azzurri looked like a team that was really lacking any kind of serious spark. There were turnovers, there were stupid mistakes, there was just a general lack of (insert creative word here) that you would expect from a team that is fighting to get into the knockout stages of a major European tournament.
Then once the Azzurri found their footing, things started to turn into that mid-season-dammit-Juventus style. Italy dominated possession, created chances, yet didn't test Ireland keeper Shay Given as much as he should have been. Italy had 67 percent of the possession and recorded 26 total shots — but only seven of those were on target.
Does that sound like the Juventus we saw in January and February? Yeah, it does.
Still, the end result was what needed to happen: W.I.N.
Was it a thing of beauty? Ha, hardly. But when you look at the result and when Italy will be playing next, it certainly makes the so-so overall performance a little bit more acceptable. Or a lotta bit. Whatever camp you fall in, Italy is moving on to the quarterfinals of Euro 2012. I think we can all agree that this piece of news is pretty darn good.
ITALJUVE PLAYER RATINGS
Buffon: 7 - Due to Italy absolutely dominating possession, San Gigi didn't have a whole hell of a lot to do for long periods of time. But much like during the club season, when he was called into action, he answered it in usual fashion. His last save was obviously the most important. And when you consider the circumstances, the save on Keith Andrews' free kick was just that much more critical.
Chiellini: 6.5 - This was the kind of game the Chiellini thrives in. Playing against an opponent that is just as physical as he is, Giorgio seemed to welcome the nature of the game. He was having a near-mistake-free performance — then something went wrong. It's like the week before the Coppa Italia final for him all over again. Once you saw Chiello gesture that something was tweaked, you knew it wasn't good and it could keep him out for a good amount of time. His tournament future is in doubt, and he's certainly going to miss England in the quarterfinals on Sunday.
Barzagli: 7 - Rust? Ha, Andrea Barzagli laughs at the concept of rust. Barzagli stepped in after missing the first two group games because of a calf injury and played his usual exceptional game. Calm, cool, collected. Pretty much everything we've seen from The Wall of Barzagli was on display against the Irish.
Marchisio: 6.5 - This was more of a Spain type of performance for Principino than a Croatia one. He didn't get forward into the attack a lot like the draw against Croatia, but he was rock solid in defense. Marchisio tracked back time after time covering for Abate on the right flank. He's having a fantastic tournament thus far and doesn't look to be slowing down any time soon.
Pirlo: Before I give his rating, I want to show you all what Andrea said after the match:
"It was one of my worst performances from an individual level, but the important thing was that the team go forward." (courtesy of Football Italia)
Agree? Disagree? Here's what I think: Pirlo was certainly off his game. The 92 percent pass completion rate my say otherwise, but he definitely turned over a fair number of passes throughout the game. Still, despite the struggles, Pirlo had the game-winning assist from the corner on Cassano's goal. Hey, it's the timing that counts. Final verdict: 5.5.
BonuccI: 7 - Came in for Chiellini and hardly did a thing wrong. Was sound on the defensive end — and having Barzagli back there certainly helped when it came to coming off the bench cold. With Chiellini possibly out the rest of the tournament, this is Leo's time to continue this damn good run of form that he's on.
Things I think I think — THE COMEBACK!
1. Balzaretti and Abate gave Italy exactly what had been lacking against Spain and Croatia — productivity from the wings, especially the former out on the left. No offense to Giaccherini, but he's not a wing back. With Balzaretti playing as a natural left back, there was much more of threat down the flank. Both showed they deserve to start the rest of the tournament.
2. Going out a limb here: Thiago Motta ... not a trequartista.
3. For all the BS that comes along with him, that was one hell of a goal from Balotelli. I know we get sick of the antics, sick of the idiotic things he does on the field from time to time, but you can deny the kid — yes, he's still just 21 years old — has a ton of talent. For the sake of Italy, hopefully this goal gets him going.