Hellas Verona v Benevento – A Serie A Clash that Might Surprise

On paper Hellas Verona v Benevento on Monday night CET (Tuesday morning AEDT) may seem like a boring game to watch but it might surprise a few people for a number of reasons.

Both teams were promoted from Serie B at the end of the 2016/17 campaign and have failed to win a match so far in Serie A this season. The Gialloblu are 18th with just three points in seven games while the Stregoni have failed to collect a point in their debut campaign.

If their performances in Round 7 were anything to go by, both signs have shown signs of improvement and surely a victory is due soon for one of these teams.

Hellas Verona was trailing 2-0 away to Torino and an injury to Granata star Andrea Belotti allowed the Gialloblu to come back and gain a 2-2 draw. Benevento lost 2-1 at home to Inter but it was a gallant defeat and the Campanian side showed that the Nerazzurri were vulnerable to counter-attacks.

Changes in tactics from both coaches resulted in the improvement in performances in the last round of Serie A.

Mastini tactician Fabio Pecchia has persisted with the 4-3-3 formation but using Romulo as a box-to-box midfielder and Daniel Bessa as a playmaker suits the characteristics of the players. Meanwhile, his Sanniti counterpart Marco Baroni switched from the 4-4-2 formation to the 4-3-3 and started Pietro Iemmello in attack while leaving Massimo Coda and George Puscas on the bench.

Most of the flair on display throughout the match should come from the wingers of both teams.

While Verona can count on the experienced Alessio Cerci and Roma-owned starlet Daniele Verde, Benevento has Cristiano Lombardi from Lazio and Marco D’Alessandro from Atalanta. The Gialloblu wingers are technically gifted albeit inconsistent wingers but they can be dangerous on their day whereas the opposing wingers in the Giallorossi squad are quicker and more direct.

If Baroni does not start with Lombardi and D’Alessandro, he could use Vittorio Parigini, who is on loan from Torino and has experience in the Italy U-21 side, or Amato Ciciretti could make his return to the team after being sidelined with injury.

The wingers will need to fire if the centre-forwards are going to get the service they need, with Pecchia needing to choose between the promising Moise Kean or veteran Giampaolo Pazzini while Baroni will probably persist with the aforementioned Iemmello.

Although the choices in forwards and wingers will be crucial, the midfielders for each will need to prove that they can cope with playing in Serie A. Bessa will need to dictate the play for Verona without the support of defensive midfielder Bruno Zuculini while Benevento duo Danilo Cataldi and Ledian Memushaj need to be effective offensively and defensively.

Defensively there has been improvement from Hellas Verona, especially from its often erratic goalkeeper Nicolas, whereas Benevento need to tighten up more, especially without captain Fabio Lucioni, who is serving a drug ban. The Stregoni can depend on Vid Belec between the posts but the defenders ahead of him must demonstrate the ability to close down gaps.

After a tough start to the season for both sides, this is a great chance for either team to collect a victory over a fellow struggler. Although these teams lack star names, there are certain elements in these squads that could make this Serie A clash more interesting than it seems.

 

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Faith in Italy coach Ventura is Close to Zero

If I was not disappointed before Italy’s 1-1 draw with FYROM on Friday evening CET, I certainly am now because that result feels like an Azzurri defeat and my belief in Coach Giampiero Ventura is almost non-existent.

I have watched the Azzurri since I was an eight-year-old in 1996 and I cannot recall a worse coach in my time watching them play. The former Torino coach looks so far out of his depth, it’s not funny.

He was expected to usher in a new generation of Italian talent but his selections have been poor and he still persists in selecting many veterans who are evidently declining.

Although Giorgio Chiellini can hold his head up high after scoring against the Macedonians, his partners in defence are nowhere near their best. Gianluigi Buffon’s reflexes are waning, Andrea Barzagli can barely last 90 minutes, and Leonardo Bonucci has struggled since moving to AC Milan at club level.

Central midfield has been a problem for Italy in recent matches and the duo of Marco Parolo and Roberto Gagliardini were criticised after Friday’s game.

Parolo plays in a more defensive role when he plays for his country and he does not offer much offensively like he would for Lazio or Parma before that.

Gagliardini is not a play who can dictate the play and his tasks need to be simplified. The Inter midfield should not have started or he should have been paired with the more creative yet less experienced Nicolo Barella.

One of the most bizarre decisions made by Ventura was to give Bologna forward Simone Verdi his Italy debut. Don’t get me wrong, I actually like Verdi but he is suited to playing for a provincial club like Bologna and not to be selected for international duty. I don’t like including players that don’t start regularly for their clubs but Federico Bernardeschi should have started instead of the Felsinei winger.

Bernardeschi is the exception to that rule because players like Matteo Darmian, Gagliardini, and Eder do not start for their clubs. Gagliardini was arguably picked out of necessity because three other central midfielders dropped out due to injury but he needs regular time with Inter before he can be trusted in the Azzurri squad.

Another major issue with Ventura is that he is picking players out of form such as Bonucci, Antonio Candreva, and Manolo Gabbiadini when the focus should be on choosing players based meritocracy instead of reputations or beliefs.

Throughout his career the Azzurri tactician has predominantly used two formations: 4-2-4 and 3-5-2. None of the Serie A coaches use the 4-2-4 and 3-5-2 would make the selections of Lorenzo Insigne and Stephan El Shaarawy pointless because they play at their best on the wing.

The 69-year-old Italy coach needs to find a formation that suits the best Italian talent available, not the players with the greatest reputations or even the best potential.

It is easy to say that Italy peaks at major tournaments but it doesn’t always work because the players can still under-perform and fail to obtain results. It is also easy to say that a coach should not play too many kids but the veterans are a shadow of their former selves and their bodies cannot deal with the rigours of international football anymore.

I was willing to give Ventura a chance but the performances under him have been woeful and the recent results have been unimpressive too.

He is turning Italy into a fallen giant and I believe he is incapable of helping the Azzurri bounce back up.

Montella Must Forget Using the 4-3-3 at AC Milan

Vincenzo Montella must forget about implementing the 4-3-3 formation at AC Milan, or better still, he should never use it again for as long as he coaches.

The Rossoneri coach used that formation in the 4-1 defeat against Lazio on Sunday and it is a formation that he tries to use at almost every club he has coached but with little success.

Throughout his career as a coach, the 43-year-old has often created teams that emphasised on playing attacking football and passing the ball around nonchalantly, but they do not press aggressively or defend rigidly.

It is fair to say that Montella’s style of coaching is more Spanish than Italian because of his focus on monopolising possession. If Italy’s 2-1 victory against England at the 2014 World Cup under Cesare Prandelli was the apotheosis of tikitalia, an Italianised version of the Spanish tiki-taka, then Montella is the high priest of the philosophy.

Unfortunately he tries to use a 4-3-3 formation like some Spanish sides do but the only club where it worked regularly was at Catania in 2011/12, where the sporting director Pietro Lo Monaco had acquired players for that formation before Montella arrived at the club. Prior to joining Catania, L’Aeroplanino (The Little Airplane) used the 4-2-3-1 at Roma after he replaced Claudio Ranieri.

Since then, Montella develops the eagerness to play with a back four but he has not suited the squads that he worked with. At Fiorentina, he wanted his teams to play a languid possession game but a switch to the 3-5-2 formation benefited the players at his disposal.

When he coached the Viola from 2012 to 2015, he had Juan Cuadrado and Manuel Pasqual patrolling the flanks and often used two strikers in attack, but he experimented with Cuadrado in the trequartista role in his final season before the Colombian went to Chelsea and Mohamed Salah moved to Florence.

After he was sacked by Fiorentina, Montella became the coach of Sampdoria as a replacement for Walter Zenga but the 2015/16 season was one to forget for club and coach. He starred for Il Doria as a player but he could not impose his philosophy on the players, who were still used to workmanlike methods of Zenga’s predecessor Sinisa Mihajlovic.

At Samp he tried to use the back four and encourage possession football but he got more results using the 3-5-2 and defending deep.

Implementing the 4-3-3 started well enough for Montella at AC Milan but the key player in that formation was Giacomo Bonaventura, who played on the left side of the midfield trio before a hamstring injury ruled him out for the remained of the 2016/17 Serie A season. Another key factor was the emergence of Manuel Locatelli in the regista role before his form dropped near the end of the campaign.

With the new investors spending an abundance of money on quality players, L’Aeroplanino is still persisting with the dreaded formation whereas the footballers acquired by directors Marco Fassone and Massimiliano Mirabelli are more suited to the 3-5-2.

Leonardo Bonucci has arrived from Juventus and has played his best football at club and international level when he is in the middle of a defensive trio. Andrea Conti joined from Atalanta and he operated as a right wing-back in the 3-4-1-2, not as a right-back in a four-man defence.

There is an abundance of central midfielders to choose from now that Franck Kessie and Lucas Biglia have been acquired from Atalanta and Lazio respectively while Turkish international Hakan Calhanoglu is at his most effective playing in the hole.

Montella must acknowledge that his players are not ideally suited to the 4-3-3 formation but he should accept that the formation will not prolong his coaching career.

 

Crotone Rebuilding for Season Two of Serie A

Despite achieving Serie A survival in remarkable circumstances last season, Crotone still had to overhaul the squad for the 2017/18  season.

It was an incredible achievement for the club from the southern Italian region of Calabria, which managed to win six of its last nine league matches and avoid relegation at the expense of Palermo.

Coach Davide Nicola created a compact team that played in the 4-4-2 formation, defended resolutely, and would often hit quickly on the counter-attack.

Unfortunately for the Pitagorici, key players such as Lorenzo Crisetig and Diego Falcinelli returned to their parent clubs and centre-back Gian Marco Ferrari has joined Sampdoria.

With the need to replace key personnel and add some depth to the Crotone squad, sporting director Giuseppe Ursino has acquired a few promising youngsters as well as some players from obscure leagues and locations.

Marco Faraoni has joined as a free agent from Udinese. The 26-year-old has been a journeyman and has failed to regular cement a place at any particular club after breaking through at Inter so he has been given another chance to get his career on track.

Arlind Ajeti has played in Serie A previously with Frosinone and Torino but has struggled to adapt since arriving from Switzerland. He has started well for Crotone, being one of the bright performers in defence in the opening two rounds of Serie A.

Leandro Cabrera is a former Uruguayan youth international who plays as a centre-back and joined Crotone on a free transfer from La Liga 2 side Real Zaragoza. He has played most of his football in Spain’s second division including three seasons with the Aragonese club.

A last-minute signing in defence was Bosnian international Daniel Pavlovic, who has joined the Pitagorici on loan from Sampdoria.

Rolando Mandragora joined on loan from Juventus. The 20-year-old has struggled for playing time with the Bianconeri but playing in Calabria has already provided him with valuable game time in central midfield.

Thirty-four-year-old Mariano Izco arrived from Chievo and the Argentine midfielder provides plenty of Serie A experience with his stints at the Flying Donkeys and Catania.

Versatile midfielder Giovanni Crociata signed a four-year contract with Crotone after joining from AC Milan. He spent last season on loan at Serie B club Brescia and played 19 matches in a variety of positions.

Oliver Kragl played a season-and-a-half at Frosinone and he was a part of the Ciociari’s fight for Serie A promotion in 2016/17 before he suffered a knee injury.

Marcello Trotta has extended his loan from Sassuolo unlike Falcinelli, who has returned to the Neroverdi after playing a vital role in Crotone’s survival campaign. Trotta’s partner for this season will be Ante Budimir, who is back for another spell with the Squali after failing to cement a spot with Sampdoria.

The Croatian centre-forward scored 16 goals in 40 Serie B games in 2015/16 as the Calabrese club went to achieve promotion to Italy’s top flight and a return to Crotone might help him regain his prolificacy.

Another promising starlet to join the Squali on loan is Marco Tumminello from Roma. The 18-year-old scored 19 goals in just 18 games for the Roma Primavera team last season and was given some playing opportunities in the pre-season but a loan spell should grant him more playing time.

The Serie A season has not started well for Crotone, losing 3-0 at home to AC Milan and drawing 0-0 to newly-promoted Hellas Verona and they play Cagliari away on Sunday.

Hopefully with another bunch of youngsters and unknown quantities, Nicola can once again try to create another miraculous escape from relegation.

Pescara Remain Faithful to Zemanlandia

In the early stages of the 2017/18 Serie B season, Pescara is staying true to the football style synonymous with its coach Zdenek Zeman.

Known for his ultra-offensive tactics, the 70-year-old is still implementing the Zemanlandia philosophy that made him famous at Foggia in the 1990s.

Now in his second stint with Pescara, Zeman’s team has stayed true to his way of coaching just three games into the current Serie B campaign, with a victory, a defeat, and a draw.

The Delfini started the season with a 5-1 win against Foggia, a 4-2 loss against Perugia, and on Friday drew 3-3 with Frosinone despite leading 3-0 at half-time. The performances in these matches are reflective of a typical Zeman team as there is little care for defensive structure and the emphasis always remains on attacking.

The victory in the opening round was as emphatic as the scoreline suggests, with Satanelli full-back Alberto Gerbo scoring a consolation goal once Pescara was 5-0 up.

Shambolic defending contributed heavily to the defeat away to the Grifoni while the draw against the Ciociari was truly a game of two halves as the Delfini demonstrated how cavalier they are going forward but how naive they can be defensively.

Against Perugia the Pescara defence was vulnerable at defending at set-pieces while Frosinone was able to tear the Abruzzese backline with diagonal passing. This is nothing new for clubs coached by Il Boemo and nobody should expect that to change.

Although he refuses to improve the defensive aspects of football, Zeman has had a great record of developing talent and already he is working his magic, with Stefano Pettinari being a clear standout. The 25-year-old has been a journeyman striker throughout his career but he has started the campaign in remarkable fashion, scoring six goals in just three matches.

Prior to 2017/18, Pettinari had not scored more than nine goals in a season, which was for Crotone in Serie B in 2013/14, but if he continues at this rate, he will smash that tally very easily.

Last season he was a peripheral figure under Coach Massimo Oddo and needed a loan spell with Ternana to gain some confidence scoring two goals and assisting in another two in 13 games but now he is a key player under Zeman.

Nineteen-year-old Ferdinando Del Sole is another player who is thriving under Il Boemo or “The Bohemian”. Juventus bought the right-winger but has decided to leave him on loan with the Delfini, which should be beneficial for the player.

Del Sole has played in two Serie B games so far this season and he created two of Pettinari’s goals against Frosinone with crosses from the right-wing.

For the first goal, he made a direct run and crossed from the byline for the former Roma youth product to tap-in, and the second goal came from when the 19-year-old received the ball – albeit from an offside position – sprinted down the wing, did a step-over, and his cross was diverted into the net with a Pettinari side-volley.

Three rounds have gone in the 2017/18 Serie B season and the hallmarks of a Zdenek Zeman team are evident to see. The consistency is not present but through the good times and bad, Pescara is already a team that is typical of the ideals of Zemanlandia.

Chievo Could Be More Proactive With New Signings in 2017/18

With some of the new signings at the club, Chievo could play more attacking style of football in the 2017/18 Serie A season.

Coach Rolando Maran has been conservative in his methods despite occasionally implementing pressing tactics and he has been over-reliant on veterans in defence.

Whether he was using the 4-4-2 or 4-3-1-2 formation, the now 54-year-old has often fielded workhorse midfielders more than creative players in the middle of the park and the strikers were more known for their work ethic than their flair.

Slovenian attacking midfielder Valter Birsa has often had the responsibility to create play but some of the new arrivals should take the workload off him and provide the Flying Donkeys with more creative spark.

Two forwards that have been acquired from Serie B club Cesena are Luca Garritano and Alejandro Rodriguez.

Garritano is a versatile player that has been used as a support striker and a winger but he was used as a creative central midfielder in the second half of the 2016/17 Serie B season. This season he is likely to feature as a box-to-box midfielder in Maran’s 4-3-1-2 formation and should offer more guile than the hard-working Perparim Hetemaj.

Rodriguez possesses Serie A experience, having played for Cesena when it was last in Italy’s top flight and spent the 2015/16 campaign on loan at Sampdoria. Although he is unlikely to take a starting position away from Roberto Inglese, the Spaniard is better suited to a substitute’s role.

Another striker that has joined Chievo in the summer is Manuel Pucciarelli from Empoli, who has been relegated from Serie A. Barring a spell at Gavoranno in 2012, the 26-year-old has spent his career with the Azzurri but the Flying Donkeys purchased him for a reported figure of €3.75 million.

He will play in a support striker role as he did with Empoli, and despite not being a prolific goalscorer, his dribbling ability as well as comfort in drifting to the wings should benefit Ceo‘s attacking play.

In addition to these new arrivals, there are two young forwards that are returning to Chievo from loan spells. Mehdi Leris is a support striker who spent last season in the Juventus Primavera team while Kevin Yamga played for Lega Pro team Arezzo in the 2016/17 campaign.

It remains to be seen if Maran does use Leris and Yamga in 2017/18 but at least the Flying Donkeys have more options in attack than in previous years and he has the opportunity to be more diverse with his tactics.

Since Maran became Chievo coach in October 2014, he has often started with the industrious Riccardo Meggiorini alongside an out-and-out striker. First it was Alberto Paloschi playing as the centre-forward and then Inglese has taken that role while club stalwart Sergio Pellissier has featured in cameo roles. With the new signings though, Maran has the opportunity to create a team that plays in a more modern style.

Instead of grinding out wins, he has players that possess the characteristics produce expansive football, and even a provincial club like Chievo can and should believe that it is capable of dictating the play.

 

Hellas Verona Dodged Bullet with Cassano

Hellas Verona should count itself lucky that Antonio Cassano wanted his contract terminated before the 2017-18 Serie A season commenced.

The Gialloblu has returned to Italy’s top flight after a season in Serie B and the 35-year-old free agent was among the club’s new acquisitions but he had not played competitive football for over a year.

Cassano’s final Serie A match was at Sampdoria, when the Blucerchiati lost 3-0 in the Derby della Lanterna in Round 37 of the 2015/16 season, and despite remaining at the club to train, he was frozen out of the squad and then had his contract terminated in January 2017.

He had been training by himself but he would have lacked in match fitness and match experience. To return to competitive football after a year out in your mid-30s and be successful is an improbable task and stamina was never a huge feature of his game so succeeding with the Gialloblu would have been a miracle.

Hellas Verona coach Fabio Pecchia already has to work with a few veteran strikers and it would have been a tougher challenged if Cassano honoured the rest of his contract. Captain Giampaolo Pazzini is 33 years old while Alessio Cerci, who joined on a free transfer from Atletico Madrid, turned 30 on July 23.

Cassano would have been reunited with former attacking partner Pazzini and the duo formed a great partnership at Sampdoria but Pecchia’s methods are different to Walter Mazzarri’s and Luigi Del Neri’s. Mazzarri and Delneri usually had two strikers up front in their formations at Il Doria while Pecchia often implements the 4-3-3 formation.

Aside from the current Mastini coach’s system, it has been seven years since “Pazzo” and “Fantantonio” were working their magic with the Doriani so replicating that form or anything near it would have been a mammoth task for them.

While Pecchia still has to work with the experienced duo of Cerci and Pazzini in attack, he does have Daniele Verde, who arrived on loan from Roma during the transfer window.

After unsuccessful spells at Frosinone and Pescara, the 21-year-old winger spent last season on loan at Avellino, scoring eight goals and assisting five others in 32 Serie B games.

With Cassano gone and Juanito Gomez also terminating his contract, Verde should have more of a chance to prove himself and he would add pace as well as youthful energy to Verona’s experienced attack.

French winger Mohamed Fares has featured in the Verona senior squad sporadically in the last two seasons and will probably remain as a bit-part player but it does not mean that Fares and Verde will be the only youngsters in the Butei attack.

According to La Gazzetta dello Sport, the Veronese team is linked with Felipe Avenatti, Ricardo Kishna, Sadiq Umar, and Patrick Cutrone so the search for more youth in attack should continue until the end of August. Balancing youth and experience, particularly up forward, should be vital to the Mastini’s survival hopes.

Hellas Verona will commence the 2017/18 league campaign at home against Napoli, which coincidentally was the same fixture that opened the Mastini‘s 1984/95 scudetto-winning season.

Although the current Gialloblu team is unlikely to hit the lofty heights of the great 1980s side, they should be glad that they have one less veteran than what they need.

 

New Investors Must Acquire Fiorentina from the Della Valle Family Quickly

It has come to the point where Fiorentina supporters have become fed up with the lack of ambition from club patrons Andrea and Diego Della Valle and now the Florentine side needs someone to purchase the club fast.

Since 2002, the Della Valles have owned the Tuscan club but aside from building the club up after it went bankrupt, their reign has not produce silverware domestically or internationally.

This summer the Gigliati have had an exodus of playing personnel such as Federico Bernardeschi, Borja Valero, Ciprian Tatarusanu, Gonzalo Rodriguez, Cristian Tello, and Matias Vecino, who were important footballers for the club.

General director Pantaleo Corvino has replaced those players with youngsters like Nikola Milenkovic and Rafik Zekhnini as well as unknowns such as Vitor Hugo and Bruno Gaspar but it will be a massive challenge for new coach Stefano Pioli to make them fit into the Fiorentina side quickly.

There are other footballers returning from loan spells such as Andres Schetino, Matias Fernandez, Jaime Baez, and Ante Rebic but it is doubtful that these players aside from Mati Fernandez have the quality to improve the side.

This has turned out to be a case of poor timing for Pioli, who has to work with limited resources. He might have to promote youth academy players like he did at Parma in 2006/07, when the likes of Luca Cigarini and Daniele Dessena featured regularly for the Ducali.

The Della Valle family have put the club up for sale but nobody has showed any serious interest so far.

It would be ideal to sell the club to foreign owners because an Arab, Chinese, or Russian investor would likely increase the club’s transfer funds. Inter and AC Milan have been bought by Chinese businessmen in the last year or so and perhaps more Italian clubs could follow that trend.

For those who want to maintain a bit of tradition and keep the club Italian-owned, it is unlikely that any Italian businessman is willing to spend millions of Euros on players so implementing a youth policy would be convenient.

Fiorentina’s squad has been dominated by foreign players in recent seasons so focusing on Italians might be the way to go. Youth product Federico Chiesa had a breakthrough campaign in 2016/17 so maybe he should be seen as an example and the Viola should grant other kids opportunities to gain valuable experience.

Unfortunately patience is lacking in Italian football and there is often demand for instant success. The clubs that have scouted players from obscurity and placed faith in young talent are teams that have been playing in Italy’s lower divisions.

Regardless of who takes over from the Della Valle family, new ownership is needed immediately. A passionate football city and place with the history of Florence needs and deserves a competitive side but the current administration is destabilising Fiorentina.

The Viola needs direction, leadership, and investment and the Della Valle family won’t provide that anymore.

Italy v Brazil in the 1982 World Cup is the Greatest Football Match Ever

July 5 marks 35 years since Italy and Brazil played against each other in a classic encounter at the 1982 FIFA World Cup.

The Azzurri triumphed 3-2 over the Selecao in a match considered to be one of the best football matches ever but I will go a step further and say that it was the greatest game played in the history of the sport.

Two matches are often rated higher. In one particular list by Planet World Cup, Italy v West Germany from the 1970 World Cup and West Germany v France from the 1982 tournament are considered to be better than Italy v Brazil but I do not believe that to be the case.

Italy’s 4-3 victory over the West Germans after extra time in the Mexico 70 semi-finals is referred to as the “Match of the Century” but as great as it was, there were substantial amounts of the game that were boring. If Karl-Heinz Schnellinger had not equalised, the clash probably would have been labelled as a boring 1-0 win to the Italians.

When West Germany drew 3-3 with France before beating them 5-4 on penalties in the España 82 semi-finals, it was considered to be a dramatic game to watch. Watching it in hindsight, viewers do not get the same adrenalin as viewing it live, and then you realise that for all the drama, there were some dour spells during the game.

Italy v Brazil in the Second Phase of the 1982 World Cup was an exciting game from start to finish. Both teams had technically gifted players and they could have and probably should have scored more than five goals at the Estadi de Sarrià in Barcelona.

On paper it was meant to be a contrast of styles. Italian football at the time was synonymous with catenaccio, the defensive tactic which involved defending in numbers and going to play for a 0-0 draw or 1-0 win, and Brazil was known for its jogo bonito. The Selecao played a cautious style of football in 1974 and 1978 but the 1982 team played in the same manner as the victorious 1970 World Cup side.

Italy qualified unconvincingly for the Second Phase, drawing all three matches in Group A and progressed ahead of Cameroon because they had scored one more goal. Brazil had flourished in the First Round, winning all three games in Group F and scored 10 goals in the process.

Both teams were drawn in Group 3 with reigning world champions Argentina, with the Azzurri defeating the Albiceleste 2-1 and the Selecao beating their South American rivals 3-1. Scoring the extra goal was vital because it meant that Brazil only needed a draw and Italy had to win.

Although Italian football was largely considered to be defensive, the main thing the national team had in common with the clubs was the formation. Coach Enzo Bearzot used the zona mista, which was an asymmetrical 4-3-3 formation, otherwise the Azzurri tactician had encouraged a more attacking style since he became coach in 1975.

At the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, Italy had impressed in the first group stage with its proactive approach – the 1-0 win against the hosts was an exception – but the team faded as the tournament progressed and finished fourth. At the beginning of the 1982 edition, the Italians were unconvincing and although improvements were seen against the Argentines, a third World Cup looked unrealistic.

Once Italy v Brazil started at 5:15 pm local time, those pre-match predictions counted for little. Both teams attacked each other and it was the Italians who opened the scoring after five minutes.

The ball was played out of defence and Bruno Conti went for a run in midfield. He crossed the ball with the outside of his left boot to Antonio Cabrini, who advanced from left-back. His curling cross found Paolo Rossi, who made a late run into the penalty area and headed the ball into the net.

Rossi had been suspended for two years after the 1980 Totonero match-fixing scandal and looked underwhelming in the previous four World Cup games but he had suddenly came to live.

Francesco Graziani nearly made it 2-0 after Rossi back-heeled to him but he ballooned his shot over the bar. If Graziani was like future Italian stars Roberto Baggio, Alessandro Del Piero, or Gianfranco Zola, he could have curled that shot into a top corner instead of blasting high into the sky.

Serginho missed a sitter for the Brazilians before Socrates beat Dino Zoff at the near post in the 12th minute. In the 25th minute, Cerezo played a casual pass in defence, and Rossi reacted quickly to race towards goal and shot inside the semi-circle to make it 2-1.

Brazil pushed hard for an equaliser but 40-year-old goalkeeper Dino Zoff was in inspiring form. The Azzurri could have made it 3-1 in the second half but Rossi shot agonisingly wide after receiving a through-ball from Graziani.

The Selecao did get their deserved equaliser in the 68th minute, when Socrates dribbled past Conti and passed to Falcao, who calmly took five touches and struck a thunderous left-foot shot past Zoff.

Tele Santana encouraged his team to keep attacking but the Brazilian coach probably did not expect the Italians to have any more energy left inside of them. Bearzot’s team chased for the winner and duly got it.

Italy got a corner in the 75th minute. Conti’s corner from the right was headed down by Socrates but Marco Tardelli managed to swing his left leg at the ball and Rossi deflected the ball into the net to get his hat-trick.

Surprisingly enough, the Italians went for a fourth goal and they thought they had got it. Giancarlo Antongnoni started the counter-attack and his long pass found Rossi, who then passed to Gabriele Oriali. Oriali switched the ball across the penalty area and Antognoni side-footed the ball into the net.

The Italian playmaker was onside but the goal was controversially disallowed. If Brazil had equalised, that moment would have been heavily scrutinised. The Selecao thought they had equalised when Socrates dribbled around Zoff and scored from a tight angle but it was correctly ruled offside.

Zoff had one more save left in him and he displayed cat-like reflexes to deny Oscar from a header in the final minute. After he kicked the ball away, Israeli referee Abraham Klein blew for the final whistle.

Italy progressed to the semi-finals, beating Poland 2-0, and then defeated West Germany 3-1 in the final to win the World Cup for the third time and it was the first one since 1938.

Brazil had lament on what could have been. Some Brazilians had seen it as the day football died but it was proof that football was not just about attacking and aesthetics. You need to practical too.

Not many people talk about it, but it was a match in which Italian football showed that there was more to it than just defending. The Azzurri were confident on the ball and arguably created more dangerous chances than the Selecao.

There might have been matches with more drama and controversy but Italy 3-2 Brazil was match where the football smarts, artistry, and technique were on show. For those reasons, I rate it as the greatest game ever.

 

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