x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Confederations Cup: Teams have found holes in Italy's once-vaunted defence

Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon has struggled for the Azzurri as a possible semi-final match with Spain awaits in the Confederations Cup.

Italy players Alessandro Diamanti, right, Giorgio Chiellini, Mario Balotelli, Leonardo Bonucci and Alberto Aquilani have not had a lot to smile about after they surrendered eight goals during three matches in Brazil. Antonio Calanni / AP Photo
Italy players Alessandro Diamanti, right, Giorgio Chiellini, Mario Balotelli, Leonardo Bonucci and Alberto Aquilani have not had a lot to smile about after they surrendered eight goals during three matches in Brazil. Antonio Calanni / AP Photo

Cesare Prandelli has always dismissed Italy's once infamous "catenaccio" defence as a relic of the past. He might want to reach back into the annals of history now, however, to resurrect the style of play that made Italy one of the most frustrating teams in the world to play.

Italy conceded eight goals over their three group matches at the Confederations Cup, the most the team has given away in the first round of a tournament.

The goals have been piling up in greater numbers from one match to the next – one against Mexico, three against Japan and four against Brazil on Saturday.

"Eight goals are a bit too many," the centre-back Giorgio Chiellini said. "And a lot of them have come from set pieces. We've got to be more attentive because those are instances that can change a match."

However, it does not look like it will get any easier for Italy in Thursday's semi-final, when their opponents will likely be the world champions Spain, whose attackers have a habit of turning defenders inside out. Italy last faced Spain in the final of last year's European Championship, when the Azzurri were routed 4-0.

Chiellini and others say it is not purely a defensive problem but rather a failure of the entire squad. In the matches against Japan and Brazil, Italy were overwhelmed in the opening minutes and failed to produce anything in attack.

The squad features only one striker of renown in Mario Balotelli, while teams such as Brazil and Spain feature a handful of potential scorers.

Another problem has been fatigue, with Italy struggling to acclimatise to the heat and humidity. The conditions should be even more of a factor in the semi-final in Fortaleza, the tournament's northernmost venue, located just below the equator.

Another factor has been the play of goalkeeper and the Italy captain Gianluigi Buffon, who at 35 is starting to make some uncharacteristic errors. Brazil's star Neymar beat Buffon with a free kick from an angle that flew inside the goalkeeper's post.

Buffon was also responsible for Brazil's final goal, failing to save a shot from Marcelo and allowing Fred an easy goal.

Still, it is worth noting that Italy nearly drew level with Brazil when an 80th-minute header by Christian Maggio exploded off the crossbar, with Balotelli just missing a few minutes later. Also, two of Brazil's goals had more than a suspicion of offside about them.

"When Chiellini scored to make it 3-2 we put them in difficulty and we nearly equalised," Prandelli said. "Matches likes these make you grow and if we face Spain, the best squad in the world along with Brazil, we'll try to play our match. We're going for it."

Fifa admits referee made wrong call

Fifa says the referee who awarded Italy a goal after first whistling for a penalty in Saturday’s match against Brazil acknowledges making the wrong call.

Referee Ravshan Irmatov blew his whistle to award Italy a penalty. Moments later, as play continued, Giorgio Chiellini scored. Irmatov was seen pointing at the penalty spot and then giving a goal.

Fifa spokesman Pekka Odriozola said: “He has admitted he made a mistake.” Irmatov is a widely respected referee from Uzbekistan who had been expected to have a chance to referee the Confederations Cup final. Now he is expected to be sent home with his assistants, who also made two key errors in Saturday’s game. Brazil won the match 4-2.

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