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Does Prandelli really have the answers for Italy?

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Phil Minshull | 17:18 UK time, Monday, 11 October 2010

This was supposed to be the brave new era for Italian football. At least, that was the headline which appeared in World Soccer not long after Cesare Prandelli's appointment as coach of the Azzurri.

There were also plenty of similar ones in the domestic media back home in Italy. However, a series of unconvincing results, including last Friday's 0-0 draw against Northern Ireland in Belfast, has meant the knives are now out for the 53-year-old former Fiorentina coach.

There have already been calls for his head but, as everyone is well aware, at this time of year there are very few men who are available to replace him. So it would appear Italy are stuck with him for a little while longer.

That could all change if Italy fail to impress against Serbia in Genoa on Tuesday. With no competitive fixture until next March after that game, there have been suggestions that the men who run the Italian football federation may well contemplate appointing someone new in December or January.

To be fair, Prandelli seemed like a good choice after the World Cup debacle this summer, presided over by Marcello Lippi. Prandelli appeared to be a solid man able to steady the ship and, almost as importantly, to restore public faith.

The spotlight is on Prandelli after the 0-0 draw with Northern Ireland. Photograph: AFP

Despite winning Serie B with Hellas Verona over a decade ago, that is his only honour as a club coach. However, his five years at Fiorentina made him the club's longest serving coach and he constantly overachieved on limited resources without ever adding to their trophy cabinet.

"He does possess a warmth, openness and charm that make for a stark contrast with his predecessor," said The Guardian's Paolo Bandini before the Northern Ireland match.

However, a nice smile and good manners may not be enough to keep Prandelli in his job if Italy's strikers continue to fail so abysmally in front of goal as they have been doing.

Life has possibly been made even more difficult for Prandelli because Serbia inexplicably crashed 3-1 at home to Estonia to leave Group C wide open, although Italy are still in pole position with seven points from their three games.

"It makes Tuesday's game more complicated," said Prandelli after news of the result in Belgrade had been received and its implications digested. "I would have preferred a Serbia that was not wounded because they will do anything to overturn any forecast."

You cannot say that Prandelli has not tried to ring the changes since he was appointed on 2 July in a bid to give the 2006 World Cup winners a fighting chance of adding to their one and only European Championship success, which came in 1968. There were a whole host of new faces for his first game in charge as Italy went down 1-0 to Ivory Coast at Upton Park on 10 August.

Prandelli responded to the public clamour Lippi had ignored and brought back the so-called bad boy of Italian football, Antonio Cassano, after a fine season with Sampdoria. He also gave Mario Balotelli, another player with a controversial reputation, his debut, which might have played some small part in clinching his move to Manchester City.

It was ultimately all to no avail for Prandelli, whose critics received more ammunition when Italy opened their Euro 2012 campaign with a scrappy 2-1 win in Estonia. I have to confess I have only seen the goals from that game but, by coincidence, I was in Tallinn the following week and my friends there were feeling very hard done by.

Prandelli's men did better against the Faroe Islands in Florence, winning 5-0. While the Faroes are hardly the strongest opponents and no real measure of a top team's true ability, they came along just at the right time for Italy to restore their morale with an emphatic win.

Or that's what should have happened but where is the team's confidence now after failing to score for the second time in four games? Gazzetta Dello Sport said in its analysis of the Northern Ireland match that "the attackers can't see the net".

Taking the five goals against the Faroe Islands out of the equation, Italy have now only scored eight goals from their last nine games. It does not matter whether it has been Cassano, Marco Boriello, Antonio Di Natale, Alberto Gilardino, Vincenzo Iaquinta or Simone Pepe up front, the goals have not been going in with any frequency.

But Prandelli's efforts to change the make-up of the side that failed so miserably in South Africa have not been entirely in vain. He dispensed with the services of Cagliari's Frederico Marchetti, Gigi Buffon's back-up in South Africa, and Morgan De Sanctis, the other keeper in the squad.

Instead, he opted to use Palermo's Salvatore Sirigu against Ivory Coast and Estonia before giving the gloves to Bologna's Emiliano Viviano, who looked confident and assured against Northern Ireland even if he admitted he is probably keeping the place between the posts warm until Buffon has recovered from his sciatic nerve problem and recent back surgery.

Prandelli's decision to recall Stefano Mauri for the Northern Ireland and Serbia games - Mauri had not having played for the national team for three years - also looked inspired, although some might call it desperate despite the midfielder's great form for Lazio.

But let's leave Prandelli to have the last word, especially as the spotlight is well and truly on him. "When I see some report on the Azzurri that I do not like, I start reading a book. And these days I read many pages," he said on Friday.

How avidly Prandelli is browsing the bookshops across Italy later this week will be determined by his new-look team's ability to fulfil their abundant - but up to now wasted - potential on Tuesday.

Comments on this blog in the space below. Other questions on European football to: I don't need your full address but please put the town/city and country where you come from.

Q) I wondered how you thought SC Frieburg might do this season and whether the goals of Cisse might be enough just to keep Die Breisgau's heads above water?
Alex Massey, Nottingham

A) Well, seven goals in seven games is a great return for Papiss Demba Cisse, who leads the Bundesliga scorers at the moment. He has certainly filled the vacuum that some people thought would be left by the departure of Mohammadou Idrissou. A lot will depend on the usual variables of injuries and suspensions further down the line as Freiburg do not appear to have much talent in reserve on the bench. But even though they may slip down from their current fifth place, I don't see them collapsing and getting relegated.

Q) Hi Phil, was wondering if you could provide us with an update on the form and progress of Aquilani for Juventus this season?
Chris Bamford, Sheffield, England

A) I have not been too impressed with what I have seen of him so far in a Juventus shirt. Of course, it may be that he is taking time to adapt to his new team after playing only four games in Serie A since being signed on loan from Liverpool. I saw some of last week's 0-0 draw with Inter Milan and he appears to be struggling to gel with his team-mates, with too many passes not finding their intended man.


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