'No going back to Italy of old'
Italy will not sacrifice “two years’ work” by reverting to a more defensive approach honed by Italian sides of old when they face Germany in their Euro 2012 semi-final on Thursday, coach Cesare Prandelli said.
Prandelli’s emphasis on a more attack-minded Azzurri since he took charge in 2010 has won praise from fans and a hard-to-please Italian media, and while Italy have scored only four goals in four games in the tournament, they have shone at times.
“We cannot sit deep (against Germany),” Prandelli told a news conference on Wednesday ahead of the Warsaw clash.
“It would be a shame to waste two years’ work. Germany will press us high up the pitch. We are ready for this.”
Describing Joachim Loew’s side as a “safe pair of hands with a defined style of play”, Prandelli said the Germans would not fear Italy despite never having beaten them at a major tournament.
“We know where they are good, we think we know how they will line up and that they might make changes.”
Extolling the virtues of his own side, Prandelli hailed his midfield group “as the best in European football”.
The mercurial Andre Pirlo has drawn widespread acclaim for his displays in the tournament but Prandelli praised the efforts of others.
“We have quality in midfield, a lot of flair, a lot of physical strength and technical ability in there,” he said.
“Riccardo Montolivo, Claudio Marchisio and Daniele De Rossi - they try and give us numbers in the midfield.”
De Rossi, part of Italy’s squad in 2006 when they beat Germany 2-0 in the World Cup semi-final before going on to win the trophy for a fourth time, said comparisons could not be made with that match.
“It’s a different generation and a different era. The only similarity is that they were favourites for that match as well,” said the 28-year-old, who is hoping to shake off a back injury in time to face Germany.
Prandelli, hair slicked back and relaxed throughout, applauded a Chinese reporter when asked if he “knew what went on in (striker) Mario Balotelli’s world?”
The colourful and often controversial Balotelli has made as many headlines off the pitch as on it in a career that has featured flashes of brilliance but moments of madness.
“Great question,” Prandelli purred. “It is interesting trying to work out what goes on in the head of a 21-year-old man,” he said to much laughter.
“He has changed radically since he has been with us.”
Chipping in, De Rossi added: “We treat him just as one of the squad. I don’t think he is a difficult character at all.”
Balotelli, who scored a spectacular volley in the final group stage game against Ireland, endured a frustrating quarter-final against England when the Italians created a host of scoring chances but failed to take a single one in 120 minutes.
Prandelli, whose side won a penalty shootout to advance, said his advice to his strikers would be simple.
“I’ll ask them to put the ball in the back of the net,” he remarked.
“They need to keep a clear head as sometimes we are too worked up in the penalty area.”