There’s not too much creativity and flair to the current Italy team, but in their deserved 2-1 win over England, it was hard to ignore the herald of everything beautiful, elegant and clever in their play: Andrea Pirlo. He didn’t score or finish with an assist, but his passing and ability to dictate the pace and flow of the match was completely sublime.
Not that it wasn’t avoidable. Maybe Roy Hodgson and his staff don’t watch a lot of tape. Gary Neville is his assistant, so I’m guessing he takes his role on the team as seriously as he does his job with Sky Sports. However, it’s hard to understand why England didn’t press a little bit higher at times, including the middle. Teams around Europe know that a way to eliminate Italy and Juventus is putting a player on Pirlo. Danny Welbeck is perfect for those tactical missions. Well, at least he could have been.
Instead, Pirlo finished with 103 completed passes out of 108 attempts. Numbers and statistics, especially in football, aren’t always a very good indicator of how things went but in this case, Italy moved the ball freely and with hardly any bother. Some better finishing and more accuracy on their last touch and it might have been a more comfortable win against a resolute but limited England team.
The Italian team finished with a 92.2% accuracy rating on their passes, which is the highest in a World Cup match since 1966. Not all passes, or even most of them, were meaningful ones, but it showed how laid off England were in terms of pressing the Italian side. In the heat and wetness of Manaus, running around and chasing the ball isn’t too wise, but there had to be more of an effort.
After losses it’s always popular to signal out one player and blame the loss on him. That didn’t happen for England, especially not from the direction everyone thought it would come from: Glen Johnson, who isn’t exactly the dream right back for any team at a top level match. Leighton Baines, starting in his first major tournament, left too much space open behind him which allowed Antonio Candreva to provide the winning assist to Mario Balotelli.
England are far from done. Their attacking foursome is going to be a troubling sight for Costa Rica and Uruguay, although dropping Danny Welbeck for Ross Barkley might be a good idea from the England manager. Italy aren’t through yet as we’ve seen them in the past over complicate situations, but this was a fine start to a difficult group, which now will help them play with the same poise and clam that seemed to rest on their shoulders during the win over England.