Italy national football team coach Cesare Prandelli
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli will be hoping to silence the critics with a third consecutive World Cup qualifying win when the Azzurri host Group B opponents Denmark on Tuesday.
Despite clocking up two consecutive victories — at home to Malta and away to Armenia — in the wake of an opening draw in Bulgaria, the jury remains out on Prandelli’s side.
Italy came close to defeat in Sofia, were unconvincing in a 2-0 win against group whipping boys Malta in Modena, and received plenty of criticism in spite of a 3-1 win away in Armenia on Friday.
Since upsetting the form book by leading Italy to the Euro 2012 final and an eventual 4-0 humbling by Spain, Prandelli has experimented with players and formations as he continues to build a squad for Brazil 2014.
Friday’s win over a determined Armenia side was Italy’s most promising performance of the campaign, but did little to calm the critics.
Prandelli says he is still mystified.
“The players and I believe we had a good game, then we woke up and saw the reports and they seemed to be talking about another game altogether,” said Prandelli.
“Maybe we lacked consistency and some lucidity in the (penalty) area, and that’s something we have to improve on because we’re not a counter-attacking team.
“But if people believe that after the Euro we can just go out and beat everybody hands down, then there’s a problem.”
Denmark, who will head to the San Siro looking for their first win of the campaign, will start as underdogs, having lost to Italy seven times in the sides’ past 11 encounters.
Despite playing with a man advantage for most of their match against Bulgaria, the Danes could only manage a 1-1 draw in Sofia on Friday after Juventus forward Nicklas Bendtner levelled for the visitors.
Prandelli said they should not be taken lightly.
“They’re a team that have always caused problems,” said the Italy coach.
Midfielder Emanuele Giaccherini said it would be a mistake to believe Bendtner is their only threat.
“He is not the only player in the Danish team we have to worry about,” he told Corriere dello Sport.
While reports suggest Prandelli is set to shake up his defence, with Giorgio Chiellini set to come in for Leonardo Bonucci, arguably his biggest wish is for the return of a fully functional Mario Balotelli.
Balotelli has not played a World Cup qualifier yet, having missed the Bulgaria and Malta games because he underwent laser eye surgery and sat out the Armenia game because of flu.
The Manchester City striker has since been given the thumbs-up by team doctors after a weekend of light training.
“Balotelli responded well to tests yesterday and today (Sunday),” Azzurri team doctor Enrico Castellacci told reporters at Italy’s training camp near Florence.
But how he fits into the team remains to be seen.
Prandelli’s main experiments have focused on his forward line, in Balotelli’s absence, with Roma pair Pablo Osvaldo and Mattia Destro, Sebastian Giovinco of Juventus and AC Milan’s Giampaolo Pazzini and Stephan El Shaarawy all playing roles.
If he is fit to play, Balotelli would likely feature as part of a two-man attack in a 4-3-1-2 formation, although the identity of his probable strike partner is open to speculation.
Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, meanwhile, has moved to quash speculation he could be replaced by Napoli’s Morgan De Sanctis because of an adductor muscle problem.
“I should recover in two or three days,” said Buffon.