Goals fly in during warm-up win
It may have been a friendly vs. a club side but Italy finally secured a victory! Having not managed one since September 10 2013, fans began to worry, especially when even lowly Luxembourg managed to grab an unlikely draw last week. Yet despite conceding three (defensive Italians, hey?), Cesare Prandelli's largely experimental side demonstrated the beauty of their attacking play to win 5-3 vs. Fluminense.
It was the match that demonstrated the excellence of youth. Only two years ago, both Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne were playing in Serie B yet now they are two of Italy's best players and the gems that sparkled most in this match. Their chemistry was evident, their link-up play was delicious and the duo who played together for Pescara finally showed the fans what it's like to have an efficient forward line; one that creates and converts expertly.
On Sunday, Immobile played the way Italy needs a striker to play, helped by the fact he was deployed in the middle of two men who are familiar with his movements. Boasting remarkable vision and understanding of the game, the new Borussia Dortmund signing perfectly understood how to punish the Brazilians for playing a dangerously high defensive line.
Making timely runs forward, attacking space and showing off his physical strength and ball control, Immobile was alert, focused and oh so very clinical. After scoring a hat-trick and adding two assists, he simply must be considered for a starting role vs. England next Monday.
Insigne was also able to flex his goal-scoring muscles by finishing both chances Immobile created. The Neapolitan was bound to excel in a game like this where he could exploit the large gaps at the back and, using his pace and creativity to punish Fluminense's defence, he proved that Prandelli made the right choice when he chose to include him in the World Cup squad.
Against England, odds are Prandelli will he will continue to show faith in Mario Balotelli who, despite excelling in the art of drawing out fouls in dangerous areas by tumbling to the floor, failed to do much else in Sunday's game, which saw him come back far too deep and guilty of opting for the wrong decision at times. Balo may possess the technique and physical strength to keep the ball and attack defenders but he's currently struggling to impact games in the way he knows how.
Asked about the player, the coach's comment was brief yet telling: "Balotelli? Goals need to be searched for, as Insigne and Immobile did," said Prandelli.
Deployed in a 4-3-3 formation, the point of this match was so that Italy could experiment both with their shape and the personnel against a prestigious opposition who could provide a real "Brazilian test". Tactically, this was the Azzurri's opportunity to test the benefits of playing with width in attack as well as noting the possible weaknesses such a formation would expose.
While Immobile and Insigne toyed with the the Brazilian side's high line, Italy's defence ran into one too many problems. Ignazio Abate suffered greatly on the right, Mattia Perin looked out of his depth and made the mistake that led to Fluminense's second goal while Gabriel Paletta is finding it difficult to replicate his performances in a Parma shirt. Italy were simply weak when it came to defending the wide areas.
Nine changes were eventually made and it's remarkable to note how important Andrea Barzagli is to the back-line. The Juventus centre-back has struggled with injury recently but appeared physically well and came to the team's rescue by restoring calm at the back. Meanwhile Antonio Mirante, only a reserve, made vital saves to stop Fluminense from adding to the tally, showing how important it is to have a concentrated and confident man guarding the goalposts.
Now that the final friendly has been played, one hopes Prandelli has answered any questions he may have had. Defensively, Italy are still not strong enough and must better deal with threats but at least the side's impressive attacking play has allayed some fears. They can be efficient, they can outscore the opponent and they can demonstrate fluidity. Now it's time to recover before focusing on their upcoming game against a determined English side.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Minarzouki.