Based on how they entered the 2014 World Cup, it was going to be rather interesting to see just how Cesare Prandelli's Italy squad would play against England There were of the "Yeah, well just wait until Italy gets into a the tournament when the games actually matter!" arguments — and they had a point.
So come Saturday, with their captain sidelined due to an ankle injury he picked in training 24 hours prior, the Azzurri got their chance to show everybody that their pre-World Cup swoon was a thing of the past.
A resounding pass of the test if you ask me.
In no particular order, a few random thoughts regarding yesterday's win over those silly lions from England.
1. Salvatore Sirigu is more than capable of holding the fort down if Gigi Buffon has to miss any more time.
It's impossible to forget about GIgi Buffon, but Sirigu did his damnedest to at least try and make that happen. There was a ton of pressure even before the match got underway for the simple fact of who he was replacing in the starting lineup. Out was Buffon, his record number of caps and the simple fact that he's the GOAT. In came Sirigu, who has never appeared in a major tournament for Italy because of the man he filled in for on Saturday.
The end result was a commanding performance in goal from a player who had quite the task coming in.
Buffon's status for Italy's game against Costa Rica is still uncertain at this point. But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't feeling any less confident about Sirigu after the England game as I was before kickoff against England.
2. Gabriel Paletta shouldn't be starting against Costa Rica.
I understand the worries that Leonardo Bonucci isn't as good in a four-man defense as he is when he's in the center of Juventus' 3-5-2. I do, I really do. But would Bonucci really have been any worse than Paletta was against England? You compare him to somebody like Matteo Darmian who also entered the England match with no World Cup experience, and the game Paletta had looks even that much more ... yeah.
If Mattia De Sciglio will be back for Costa Rica on Friday like he thinks he will, then it will kill two birds with one stone — get Paletta out of the starting lineup and put Giorgio Chiellini back into the center of the defense where he belongs. Or just put Bonucci in the starting lineup. Both options are totally okay with me.
3. That is the Mario Balotelli Italy needs.
Calm, cool, decisive. How many times have we said that about Super Mario outside of when he scores a goal from the penalty spot? His powerful header won it, and this is the game-changing Balotelli Prandelli and Italy is going to need going forward. He was isolated alone up front some of the time without a doubt. But he was also dangerous. That's what mattered the most. He touched the ball a mere 27 times — by far the fewest of any Italy starter. This is what Michael Cox said of Balotelli: "When he varies his movement, Balotelli is the complete striker."
That's what he was in the second half. And his goal is what got Italy the three points on Saturday.
4. Matteo Darmian could be Italy's breakout star in Brazil.
When Darmian was selected to Italy's 23-man World Cup roster, you had to guess his transfer fee went up a good chunk. And with the way Darmian played against England, you have to figure said fee went up even that much more. Darmian was one of the best players of an Italy side that took full advantage of the right wing. Combine Darmian with the game Antonio Candreva had, Italy were dangerous from basically start to finish
I think Matteo will have a few more suitors trying to sign him when the World Cup is over. Just a hunch.
5a. Andrea Pirlo free kicks are beautiful.
Even when they aren't goals. Just ask Joe Hart.
5b. That dummy from Andrea Pirlo on Claudio Marchisio's goal, though.
Just beautiful. Go back and watch the replay just to see how many England players bit on it, thus giving Marchisio about an hour and a half worth of time to trap the ball and unleash a rocket of a right-footed shot.
Andrea Pirlo: Completed 95% of his 108 attempted passes vs England #ita— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) June 15, 2014
Who knew one of the times he was involved in the play but didn't actually touching the ball would end up being one of the biggest moments in the match.