'Attacking' Italy a pleasant change

Updated: 25 February 2007 08:27 IST

'Attacking' Italy a pleasant change

Sapporo:

For years, Italian soccer has been reviled as too defensive, grinding down other teams' attacks, then sneakily snapping back with opportunistic strikes. But if the team's 2-0 victory over Ecuador on Monday is any sign, it's boring Italy no more."Attack'' is the catchword of this squad - a fresh approach that could discredit long-held soccer stereotypes about Italy.Italy has a long history of being the world's most irritating team to play. Sure, the Brazilians might dance rings around you, and Germany might be physically stronger and more disciplined. But no one could shut you down better than the boys in blue.Even American diplomat Henry Kissinger piped up on the topic, saying the Italians were a team that would defend and defend until their opponents were ready to scream. "The Italian style reflects the national conviction, forged by the vicissitudes of an ancient history, that the grim struggle for survival must be based on a careful husbanding of energy for the main task,'' he wrote some years ago. "It presupposes a correct assessment of the opponent's character, paired with an unostentatious and matter-of-fact perseverance''.Doesn't sound too thrilling.Italian soccer is most famous for its use of "catenaccio", which roughly translates as "lockdown" defense, a system in which the thick back line overwhelms any attack. Italian strikers waited and watched, and picked their chances to counterattack. There was a brief period of attacking soccer under coach Arrigo Sacchi in the early '90s. But under the coaching of ex-goalie Dino Zoff in the late '90s, the team went back to its old habits.Giovanni Trapattoni took over from Zoff, and began shifting style - surprising, in a way, given that his playing career was in the 1960s, when catenaccio was at its peak.But Trapattoni is a wise general, aware of the evolution of the game. He has argued in recent days that nowadays games are decided less by pure team work than by single skilled players - definitely not the sort of remark a hardline adherent of group tactics would make.
And the lineup he chose on Monday told a tale too. Trapattoni added a defender and removed a striker from the lineup used in qualifying, so where's the attacking bent? Subtly, there is one.Ecuador played only one deep striker, Agustin Delgado, and so Italy didn't need to waste all three of its usual defenders on him. Adding a fourth defender allowed the two central fullbacks - Fabio Cannavaro and Alessandro Nesta - to handle Delgado, and gave the outside defenders - Paolo Maldini and Christian Panucci - the chance to push up.This freed the outside midfielders, in particular allowing left midfielder Cristiano Doni of Atalanta to use his attacking skills.Furthermore, the entire team, whatever the lineup, centers around one attacker: Francesco Totti. His is a highly creative role, sending perfect balls onto the charging feet of strikers, particularly goal-hunter Christian Vieri, who scored both goals Monday.What's more, Italy has three other top strikers in its arsenal. Alessandro Del Piero of Juventus, Filippo Inzaghi of AC Milan and AS Roma's Vincenzo Montella all started on the bench Monday, but are likely to be employed to strengthen the attack as the tournament goes on.It's not to say that Italy has forgotten defense. Their back line is probably the toughest in international soccer. That's what makes Italy so threatening this year: It is virtually unmatched at the front and at the back.Meanwhile, Trapattoni has hinted that he might make his formation even more aggressive in subsequent games, possibly adding Inzaghi or Del Piero to the starting formation.Thrilling Italy?With the legendary def enders now on the attack, it could be time to forget the old stereotype. (AP)



Topics : Football
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