We can say Italy were robbed, we can even pretend this was all a conspiracy, but while Italy were the better team, head coach Cesare Prandelli must take his fair share of the blame for the World Cup exit. Angry, disappointed and emotional, the country must not only cope with this bitter sporting defeat but also recover from the heartbreaking news that the man who has helped evolve the Nazionale has resigned. Prandelli is no longer the coach of Italy.
A man of great honour, Prandelli has not only helped evolve Italian tactics to make for more exciting and proactive displays but he has helped Italy grow socially through the power of football. The nation was mesmerised by his project, by his ideas and by the development of his team. He and his men not only bettered the image of calcio but brought with them impressive results by reaching the final of Euro 2012 and finishing third in the Confederations Cup.
Did the tactician err in the most spectacular of all tournaments? Indeed. We can blame the referee -- and it must be said, certain decisions did help condition the game -- but one must be realistic. Even down to 10 men, Italy had the power to win the match had they, or rather their coach, shown more courage especially against a very average Uruguayan side.
Starting the match in a 3-5-2 formation, the Italians looked in control and capable. They dominated possession, contained Edinson Cavani to ensure Luis Suarez had a quiet game and played with intelligence. They rotated the ball and allowed the chemistry between the players to shine, aware that a simple draw was all they needed to progress. However, it must also be noted that they ought to have done more with their time on the ball, created the chances necessary to score a goal and allow for breathing room. Nonetheless, it was a good tactical battle and Italy were winning it in the first half.
And then the errors and the scandals began. The first mistake was to introduce Marco Parolo for Mario Balotelli. The Milan forward, while better with his movements in the first half, just didn't do enough. Selfish with his passes, desperate to be the star, he didn't lead the line as one needed him to do while the partnership with Ciro Immobile left fans wanting. However, it was that yellow card that convinced Prandelli to take him off and introduce Parolo in the second half, fearful that Balotelli's temperament could have led to a sending off.
With Uruguay needing a goal, logic tells us that they were always going to push the Azzurri more as the game wore on. They had to show courage and push forward, which meant Prandelli ought to have prepared his side to play a counterattacking game in the second half. With the South Americans bound to leave gaps at the back, pace would be the way to hurt them, to deal the killer blow to ensure a win.
With Balotelli taken off, Italy should have introduced Alessio Cerci, a vertical player who boasts pace and the ability to play a beautiful counterattacking game alongside Immobile, much like they have done for Torino all season. Failing that, Lorenzo Insigne would have even been a better choice as not only does the Neapolitan understand Immobile, but he also has the pace and technique to get past the slow Uruguayan centre-backs.
Immobile, a player who moves so well, is neither blessed with pace nor quick feet. Thus in order for his intelligence and hard work to shine, he needed a fast and technical player alongside him. Instead, Parolo was brought on.
The Parma man may be good with timely insertions into the box but Uruguay can always handle a long ball punt considering their aerial ability. Italy needed quick feet and pace -- an actual attacking player to prove threatening at the top, not a man considered one of Serie A's finest tacklers. Parolo's introduction set the tone -- Prandelli's team were now concentrated on defending.
Claudio Marchisio's red card was harsh even if, by the strict letter of the law, it is not unjust. He was clearly meaning no harm which is why the bench was so furious with the decision. Yet despite that, the squad on the pitch never looked rattled. They realised the job at hand and were prepared for the battle. Some might even say they played better when down to 10 as they not only created chances going forward with both Pirlo and Marco Verratti believing in the goal, but they prevented their opponents from exploiting their numerical advantage.
This is when Prandelli committed the second error. He panicked. Under his tutelage the Italian national team were taught the beauty of the attacking game, to have courage and always seek the goal. Sadly his choices went against his principals. By introducing Antonio Cassano, the coach sought to play a defensive game and have a player at the other end capable of retaining possession to control the game.
Had Italy come under real pressure, conceding huge chances when down to 10 men, then Prandelli's decision would have made sense. But since his men were still going forward and actually creating chances with the space they were offered, it was the time to be brave.
At 0-0, Uruguay didn't need to be spectacular to score a goal. It only takes a moment, a mistake, a fluke to score a goal. That mistake was leaving Diego Godin to grab the goal that, as it stands, has not only knocked out the four-time World Cup champions but has robbed the team of the coach who had created such an exciting, technical project.
Of course we cannot dismiss the controversy. Godin should have been sent off against England and thus never have been allowed to take part in the game, while the fact Suarez stayed on despite it appearing he once again nibbled on an opponent are decisions that helped to condemn the Azzurri.
Yet the talent and the technique was there. Italy had more quality than their opponent but their failure to express that -- in addition to certain refereeing decisions -- has cost them the chance to progress further in the competition.