|By Sanjib Guha|
Four-time world champions (1934, 1938, 1982 and 2006), twice finalists (1970 and 1994), one third-place finish (1990) and came fourth once (1970). Yes, we are talking of Italy – the second most successful country in the history of FIFA World Cup after Brazil — who has been a pale shadow of themselves for the last two editions in 2010 and 2014.
In South Africa, they had finished at the bottom of the group after drawing with 1-1 with Paraguay and New Zealand and losing 2-3 to Slovakia.
An even poorer show was put up by the Azzurris four years later when the Cesare Prandelli’s boys beat England 2-1, lost to Costa Rica and Uruguay by 0-1 margins. The World Cup was over for them. True, that the last match against Uruguay was marred by inept refereeing and controversial proceedings.
The dip in the performance since 2006 was for everyone to make note of. Italy came to Germany with a brewing match-fixing storm back home — Calciopoli affair – involving champion club Juventus, AC Milan, Fiorentina, Lazio, and Reggina.
The same controversy resurfaced the next year. As a result top Serie A teams like Juventus, Fiorentina, and Lazio were relegated and low-ranked Messina, Lecce, and Treviso maintained their positions in Serie A, despite being the last three teams on the league table.
The incident took a serious beating on the credibility of Serie A and Serie B.
Besides many other flare-ups, the latest scandal was in February earlier this year when the Italian football federation was forced to probe into Bagheria’s weird 3-14 loss to Borgata Terrenove in a Coppa Sicilia match. In the match,the losers scored eight own goals in last 10 minutes.
Since 2006 World Cup, Italy’s graph has been on a decline, though they managed to make the final of the European Championship in 2012. The Azzurris seem to have never recovered from the match fixing menace as allegations of further fixing attempts flew thick and fast and the standard of club football unfortunately dwindled.
Come 2014, Italy was placed in the group of death with two former champions England and Uruguay and minnows Costa Rica. Prandelli’s boys failed to deliver the blows even after winning the opener against England. It cannot be said that the group D fixtures went as per expectations. Who expected Costa Rica to deliver knockout punches to three former world champions?
But then, that didn’t make much of a difference to Italy as a draw against Uruguay would have sufficed for a last 16 berth.
Players like Buffon, Andrea Pirlo, Mario Balotelli, Daniele De Rossi had no answers to the surging Uruguyans in the second half.
As far as tactics are concerned, the Italian manager has erred on several counts. From using three different combinations for three league matches to fielding both Mario Balotelli and Ciro Immobile together up front against Uruguay were all but wily moves.
Now, more news is expected from the Italian club in the next month and the bottom line is whether they would be able to make a turnaround.
Keeping in mind the legacy of Paolo Maldini, Dino Zoff, Franco Baresi, Roberto Baggio, Luigi Riva, Paolo Rossi et al, it is certainly possible, provided they take a look at this debacle and think, “What we did last summer.”