It would be an understatement to say that Cesare Prandelli had his work cut out when he took over the Italy national team just a few days after the disastrous 2010 World Cup.
Lowlights of the debacle in South Africa include the Azzurri’s draw against New Zealand, the serving up of some appalling football and Marcello Lippi’s side being knocked out of the easiest group Italy have ever been in.
The clincher came just a couple of hours after the Azzurri’s 3-2 defeat to Slovakia, when a clearly gobsmacked Slovakian fan attributed his country’s qualification to Italy being “s**t” in front of the BBC’s cameras.
In this light, Prandelli has already done a very good job, recovering from a slow start (including a 0-0 draw against Northern Ireland at Windsor Park) to qualify the Azzurri without a single defeat in the competition, racking up a record 26 points and only conceding two goals on the way to Poland and Ukraine.
At 12/1, the Italians are hardly outsiders to shock us once again, and they have a freshly-made betting fiasco waiting just round the corner…
Were Italy to replicate this efficient streak at Euro 2012, they would be good bets to top Group C in front of Spain at 15/4.
At these odds, investing the free £25 bet bwin offers to news subscribers would secure winnings of £118.75.
Then again, Italy’s performances in qualifying need to be taken with a pinch of salt, and not merely because the Azzurri hardly ever dazzle at the early stages of a major tournament.
Despite their efforts looking strong on paper, Group F turned out to be a massive disappointment, as Serbia’s masochism (not to mention their fans, who got Italy’s home game suspended) and Slovenia’s lack of cutting edge allowed Estonia to sneak through to the play-offs.
In this context, Italy were hardly ever truly put to the test, and ended up doing what they had to do, winning games without putting in many particularly stunning shifts. In fact, Prandelli’s men almost seemed to be found wanting for effort late on, as they sealed qualification with two games to spare.
That said, the Azzurri shined when they faced decent opposition in Slovenia and Serbia on the road, winning 1-0 against Matjaz Kek’s men before ending a 1-1 draw at the Marakana on the attack.
It was, however, in friendlies that Italy impressed the most, as Prandelli’s men revisited the scene of their epic 2006 World Cup semi-final to draw 1-1 with Germany in Dortmund, before overcoming Spain 2-1 in Bari last October.
The draw at the Westfalenstadion seemed, more than any other game, to herald the turning point in Italy’s fortunes, as the Azzurri outplayed their opponents in a match where some slightly more attentive refereeing may have won them a penalty.
The football Prandelli’s men played was impressive, and only got better by the time they faced Spain at the San Nicola: were they to play this kind of football, and maintain their incredible defensive record, the Azzurri may end up pulling off another incredible coup. After all, who would have backed them to win the World Cup in 2006, on the back of the Calciopoli scandal?
At Euro 2012 odds of 12/1, the Italians are hardly outsiders to shock us once again, and they have a freshly-made betting fiasco waiting just round the corner…
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