Title holders Italy crash out after defeat to Slovakia
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Italy coach Marcello Lippi took "full responsibility" for the defending champions' early exit from the World Cup on Thursday after the Azzurri ended their miserable campaign on a 3-2 defeat to Slovakia.
AFP - Whenever a team under performs at a major tournament and crashes out the evaluation of what went wrong can be long and complicated but with Italy that will be far from the case.
Italy's deficiencies, or rather primary deficiency, has long been known, analysed, dissected and contemplated.
Before the team even arrived in South Africa, everyone back home knew exactly what their problem would be: scoring goals.
And so it proved following Thursday's shock 3-2 defeat to Slovakia that left the reigning champions in the unenvious position of joining France as recent holders who have suffered the ignominy of failing to reach the knock-out stages in the defence of their title.
Italy's attack was their major failing in their first two Group F games, both of which ended in 1-1 draws with Paraguay and New Zealand.
While they enjoyed plenty of possession and remained largely untroubled at the back, they simply couldn't find a way to break down their opponents' defences.
Italy were lacking in guile, flair, creativity and clinical finishing as they continually failed to fabricate scoring opportunities.
The whys and the hows, though, is where the real debate begins.
Italy came to South Africa with a selection of five strikers but amongst them was no-one who could be considered a number 10, the player who often creates a goal for his strike partner.
Alberto Gilardino, Vincenzo Iaquinta and Giampaolo Pazzini are honest number nines and gave Lippi several options in his central striking role while in Fabio Quagliarella and Antonio Di Natale there was also plenty of pace and ability to play in wide positions.
But with midfield playmaker Andrea Pirlo arriving in the country with a calf injury and missing the first two games, Italy had no-one capable of creating chances.
And it was that fact that made the omission of Sampdoria's errant forward Antonio Cassano, or even that of veterans Francesco Totti and Alessandro Del Piero, all the more baffling.
The debate raged ahead of the finals as to which forwards Lippi would take and in the end the World Cup winning coach from 2006 decided not to take any risks.
And it was exactly that risk-free approach that cost the Azzurri so dear.
They never committed enough bodies forward and never went hell for leather in search of a goal, preferring instead to rely on their traditional strengths, a solid defence and the ability to snatch a goal out of nothing.
However, their rock solid backline had two lapses in the first two games, and both ended in goals as they failed to deal with free-kicks into their box.
And when things came to the crunch, it was their defence which faltered the most in the final group match as they conceded three times, ironically in the one match when their forwards finally found their stride.
But despite that late flurry, there was an obvious lack of attacking threat in the Italy attack throughout the tournament.
What Cassano might have brought would have been a bit of invention or vision in a tight space to unlock a stubborn defence.
However, history was not on his side as he failed miserably at both the European Championships in 2004 and 2008 while there remains a question mark over his temperament.
Having brought five forwards, though, it seems incomprehensible that Lippi would have gone so safe on all five picks and not even contemplated putting a joker in the pack just in case they needed a little spark.
When that time came, Lippi had only Pirlo, who was not properly fit, to call on and that proved too little, too late.
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