Italy 1.05, the draw 11.0, Luxembourg 35.0
As preparations for a major international tournament, having your training base raided by police at dawn would have to go down as “less than ideal”. That is the situation faced by Italy after officers arrived at Coverciano on Monday morning to search Domenico Criscito’s room. The Zenit St Petersburg defender is being investigated as part of a major match-fixing investigation.
Soon afterwards it was announced that Criscito, who maintains his innocence of any wrongdoing, would be left out of Italy’s final 23-man squad for the tournament – a decision taken jointly by the manager Cesare Prandelli and the Italian Football Federation. Prosecutors clarified that no other members of the Italy squad are under investigation.
But if losing an important defender like Criscito this close to the tournament is clearly a blow to Prandelli, the optimists will claim a silver lining. Both of Italy’s most recent World Cup triumphs have arrived in years when the domestic league was gripped by scandal – Paolo Rossi returning from a two-year suspension to help his country triumph in 1982, then the Calciopoli judgements looming as the Azzurri prevailed in 2006.
Prandelli trimmed his Italy squad from 32 players to 25 on Monday – delaying confirmation of his final 23 as he and his staff continue to monitor the recoveries of Giorgio Chiellini and Riccardo Montolivo from recent injuries. The manager has been keeping his cards close to his chest as regards his first choice XI, but has certainly given himself options up front with the inclusion of six forwards.
Italy’s competitive record under Prandelli has been superb – the team conceding just two goals as they dominated Group C in qualifying. Friendly results have been more mixed, the Azzurri beating Spain last August but losing to USA this February. Luxembourg finished bottom of their Euro 2012 qualifying group with just four points, but did beat Macedonia in their only friendly this year.
Main man: Italy
To this day, Marcello Lippi still cites the absence of Andrea Pirlo as the key factor in Italy’s ignominious exit from the 2010 World Cup, the midfielder entering the tournament with an injury and managing only a second-half cameo in their final group game against Slovakia. Prandelli, by contrast, finds the player fit and in imperious form – widely cited as the key performer in a Juventus side who won the Scudetto without a single defeat. Whatever formation the manager settles on, Pirlo will be at the heart of it.
Main man: Luxembourg
Luxembourg’s squad is not blessed with an abundance of players competing at the top level, but the manager Luc Holz is expected to put his faith once again in the 19-year-old SV Elvesberg forward Maurice Deville up front after the player scored both goals in the win over Macedonia, in what was just his second appearance for the national team.
Head to head
The two teams have met seven times, with Italy victorious on every occasion. They have not met since April 1988, when Riccardo Ferri, Giuseppe Bergomi and Luigi De Agostini scored in a 3-0 win for the Azzurri.
This ought to be a straightforward outing for Prandelli’s side, with the main questions being over which players the manager will select. He has experimented with a variety of different combinations up front in training, and while his eventual first XI is likely to feature Antonio Cassano playing behind Mario Balotelli, there is a strong suggestion that he will add a third forward to that mix.
Prandelli has confessed to being particularly impressed with Mattia Destro and should the Siena player making the starting line-up for this game, he could be worth a punt in the first scorer’s market – having found the net seven times in his last 10 games. But with rotation likely and this game being seen more as a warm-up than a competitive test, I’m not convinced this will be a high-scoring affair. Under 3.5 goals looks like value at 1.70.