Prandelli’s Italy will give champions Spain a game,says Nigel Bidmead

Versatile broadcaster Nigel Bidmead has commentated on some of Italy’s qualifying games. And on their friendly against Spain.


Martin Brody knew the feeling.

He was the Amity Island police chief who thought it was safe to go back in the water.

Little did he realise the hungry beast lurked.

After the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal in 2006, Italian football gave the impression of a sea safe to swim in; prison sentences were handed down, players banned, Fiorentina and Lazio were slung out of Europe and the defending champions Juventus were stripped of two titles and relegated.

The feeling deepened at the start of last season with the game in Italy moving in a new direction.

Foreign owners took over at Roma, promoted Novara had a plastic pitch, Juventus were looking forward to playing in a purpose-built stadium and the Azzurri beat the World and European champions Spain 2-1 in Bari.

But the mafia shark has football clamped in its jaws and the game may never be able to escape.

A new, potentially more damaging match-fixing scandal began to emerge in June last year. Juventus coach Antonio Conti and former striker Christian Vieri are under investigation, first choice full back Domenico Criscito was withdrawn from the Euro 2012 squad and another squad member, Juve centre half Leonardo Bonucci, is a suspect.

All, of course, deny wrongdoing.

Above it all, calm and focused, is Cesare Prandelli.

The national team coach is a principled and friendly man who has changed the culture of the national team with a fresh and open approach.

He made a stand against the mafia in September when he held an Italy training session on a ground in Calabria confiscated from the ‘Ndrangheta :“It is not just sending a message to the clans but the idea of starting something new for this land and all of the country. We will follow up on this initiative. Don’t ever give up.”

As the tide of organised crime, corruption and match-fixing threatens to engulf the game once more, the prime minister Mario Monti suggested a two or three year suspension of football and Italy withdrawing from the European Championships has been mentioned.

Prandelli, who lost his wife to breast cancer five years ago, refused to flinch. He said, “If you told us that for the good of football we should not participate it would not be a problem for me. There are things that I believe are more important.”

In 1982 and 2006 Italy won World Cups while mired in scandal and, given they were unbeaten in qualifying, they have a chance in Poland and Ukraine.

Prandelli favours a Juve-flavoured 4-3-1-2 with goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, defenders Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Bonucci and midfielders Claudio Marchisio and Andrea Pirlo the core of the side:


Maggio Barzagli Bonucci Chiellini

De Rossi Pirlo Marchisio


Balotelli Cassano

But Barzagli’s thigh injury has given Prandelli a headache. One aspirin is to call up Andrea Ranocchia to balance the left-footed bias and make it simpler to go the back-up 4-3-3 during the game. Another is to switch to a back three and hope Barzagli recovers for the knockout stage.

Either is a gamble with Croatia and the Republic of Ireland following the Group C opener with Spain.

Prandelli has other concerns too. The ageing and immobile playmaker Pirlo will be tightly marked, the indisciplined Balotelli is as thick as he is talented and the defence was less than impressive in the 3-0 home defeat by Russia in a recent friendly.

These issues have solutions.

De Rossi and the marvellous Marchisio will relish the extra space, Super Mario only has to behave for a few weeks and the loss to Russia has as much meaning as the victory over Spain last year. Very little.

Unlike the World Cup in 2010 the tifosi will enjoy the tournament and the prediction here is that Prandelli’s Italy will exceed expectation but sooner rather than later the predator devouring the game they love will have to be faced.

Perhaps, though, another decent bloke trying to do the right thing will emerge victorious from a joust with Jaws.