Assessment: Italy humiliated again
Italy were knocked out of the World Cup in the group stages for the second tournament in a row, and ESPNFC blogger Mina Rzouki gives her verdict on what went wrong.
One sentence: World Cup recap
Another humiliatingly early World Cup exit shatters Italy's ideological project.
All team assessments
Group Stage: Australia | Bosnia-Herzegovina | Cameroon | Croatia | Ecuador | England | Ghana | Honduras | Italy | Iran
Ivory Coast | Japan | Portugal | Russia | South Korea | Spain
Round of 16: Algeria | Chile | Greece | Mexico
Nigeria | Switzerland | Uruguay | United States
Quarterfinals: Colombia | France | Belgium | Costa Rica
Semifinals: Brazil | Netherlands
Italy wishes it was Mario Balotelli, but while the forward disappointed them again, at least they had the great Andrea Pirlo to depend on.
Experienced, intelligent and mesmerising to watch, he was always the man Italy looked to for inspiration. Always moving to escape the pressure and find the space to launch another beautiful pass, his passes over the top, his stunning dummy against England, and his outstanding ability from free kicks that left his team with a chance of prevailing. However, most of all, it was how much he always believed in the team. Even when Italy went down to 10 men against Uruguay, he (and Marco Verratti) looked calm and pushed forward to look for the equaliser.
Pirlo is a football icon, and we hope he dons the Azzurri shirt again.
HighlightsIt's difficult to find the highlights when so much more was expected, but everything the Italians know how to do well was demonstrated in the game against England.
Their intelligent style of football is always evident, but while national sides usually struggle to play cohesively and with chemistry, the Azzurri were quick to show us how well they understood one another. But perhaps nothing delighted the crowds more than when Pirlo pulled off a sublime dummy, aware Claudio Marchisio behind him could pull the trigger and score the goal they needed. That move, that outstanding piece of football, is unfortunately all we will see from Cesare Prandelli's Azzurri; we await the next opportunity Italy can thrill the world again.
Where do we begin? While Italy played a pragmatic game that exposed the chemistry between the players against England, certain tactical decisions helped condemn the Azzurri to defeats against both Costa Rica and Uruguay.
Against the Central Americans, the failure to keep possession against a side that prevails in the heat cost Italy dearly in the first half. One goal down, it was always going to be difficult to score an equaliser when the opponent had the energy to remain concentrated and was physically capable of blocking all avenues leading to goal. So many forwards were introduced in the hope of a goal, but predictable play and poor decision-making in the final third saw Italy lose.
Against Uruguay, cowardly decisions such as choosing to play for the draw so early in the game despite the squad's clear technical superiority resulted in the heartbreaking defeat. Players capable of injecting the side with pace were left on the bench as the country watched their team suffer in a World Cup yet again.
Courage is what makes champions. Preaching brave and attacking football is one thing, but having the courage to believe in the win and playing calmly even when under pressure is crucial. Prandelli went against his own teachings, surrendered to panic and suffered the consequences.
Many will point out that mistakes were made even before a ball was kicked. Like Daniele De Rossi so emotionally pointed out after the loss to Uruguay, Italy need leaders and real men capable of stepping up and giving more when the team needs them.
While the likes of the hardworking Giuseppe Rossi were left behind, the Azzurri were forced to depend on the inconsistent talent of Balotelli -- a player who excels when the team does well but simply does not raise his game when he is required to be a leader. Against Costa Rica, his lack of movement and the manner in which he simply waited to be fed frustrated the millions who watched from home, while his immaturity against Uruguay earned him a yellow card that forced Prandelli to withdraw him for the second half.
It is easy to delight the crowd when the team is playing for you, but when the chips are down and the squad need a leader to perform miracles, Balo disappointed a nation. Yet he cannot be made the scapegoat for this mess. This is a team sport and every member of the squad has a responsibility to perform.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and perhaps Prandelli ought to have made different squad choices. But considering his past success, both in Euro 2012 and the Confederations Cup, the country had to believe in his choices and his philosophy. After all, it was clear that Italy were the better side, but moments define a game, and sadly, controversial refereeing decisions coupled with simple bad luck went against the Azzurri.