Italy have sealed their place in the 2014 Brazil World Cup by beating the Czech Republic. The night was one to remember as Gianluigi Buffon equalled Fabio Cannavaro’s record of 136 caps to become Italy’s most capped player.
The game was a sad occasion for Czech Republic's coach - Michal Bilek - as he resigned after the loss to Italy.
This game was pretty straightforward to analyse from a tactical point of view, as it revolved around one tactical aspect: Italy's wingplay. The home team dominated on the wings. Especially on the left, as Balotelli drifted towards Giaccherini (and Osvaldo in the second half) to overload Gebre Selassie.
On the other hand, the Czech team scored their goal from a counter-attack, where Maggio pushed up to the Czech 18-yard box, and a quick Czech counter-attack on the left wing made it possible for them to get behind the Italian defence.
Italy started in a 3-2-2-2-1 formation. Daniele De Rossi played as a sweeper. Mario Balotelli played as the lone striker, with Giaccherini on his left, and Candreva on the right wing. Pirlo and Montolivo played as the two central midfielders.
The Czech Republic started in a 4-3-2-1 formation, also called a Christmas tree. Aston Villa striker Libor Kozák started as the lone striker. Gebre Selassie, who was one of the positive surprises of the 2012 Euros started at right-back.
Danielle De Rossi played as the sweeper in the centre of the Italian defence. He was crucial to Italy's ability to keep possession, and shift the focus of the attack from one wing to the other.
However, the problem with playing a sweeper is that keeping a straight line of defence so that the team can play an offside trap becomes difficult. This was highlighted in the 9th minute, when Kozák was ruled offside even though De Rossi was closer to goal than him.
Italy defended zonally. The Italian players stood off until the player in their zone received the ball, when they pressed them. The Italians were looking to take advantage of a sloppy control of the ball. Also, they prevented long balls played forward, behind the defence. This was crucial for Italy, given that they were playing with a sweeper. Problems arose if the Czech full-backs stepped back into their own half. In such a case, they were too far from The Italian players to get pressed, and they were able to play long balls behind the Italian defence. However, it was strange that the Czech full-back attempted such positioning and play only once, and despite it's success, it wasn't tried more.
The game's key feature was Italy's dominance on the wings. Maggio was constantly joining the attacks by pushing up on the right. When Italy were attacking on the right, Candreva stayed on the wing to play overlaps with Maggio. When the fulcrum of the attack was on the left, Candreva drifted to the middle. Jirácek and Plasil were sitting in the front of the defence with Procházka, so Candreva had to help with providing an extra man in midfield. When the ball was switched to the right, Candreva made a run to the wing, and pushed so high that he was playing in line with Balotelli.
|Candreva drifts inside to counter the Czech Republic's advantage in midfield.|
As a result of Plašil and Jiráček drifting inside - to provide a line of three midfielders in front of the defence with Proházka - Giaccherini and Candreva often had lots of space to control the ball, and run at the full-backs, or put crosses into the box. After such an instance, Balotelli hit the crossbar from a Giaccherini cross. But Balotelli's contribution to Italy's attacks was much more than simply getting on the end of crosses.
|Both Italian wingers have plenty of space, while the wing-back(Maggio) pushes up.|
He stepped towards the midfield to receive passes from Pirlo or Chiellini and Bonucci, and distribute those to Giaccherini on the left or Maggio and Candreva on the right with quick one-touch passes.
Balotelli drifted towards the left as well. This made Gebre Selassie step towards the middle a bit, to help out Sivok with marking the Italian. Giaccherini had even more space on the left as a result. However, his play was a bit one-dimensional. He didn't make switches with Balotelli by running towards the goal when Balotelli drifted to the left. He could have exploited the channel between Gebre Selassie and Sivok by doing so. Instead, he put crosses into the box.
Paolo Osvaldo started the second half in place of Giaccherini. He made the central runs that were missing from Giaccherini's play. His directness was responsible for Italy's equaliser. His combination with Balotelli in front of goal led to the corner, which resulted in another corner, which Chiellini scored from.
Italy were leading only three minutes after their first goal. Gebre Selassie fauled Mario Balotelli inside the penalty area. The full-back made several positioning mistakes before the goal, and allowed Balotelli to get on the end of Montolivo's ball. Gebre Selassie allowed Balotelli to get on his inside, and get a few yards on him when Montolivo played the ball over the defence.
The late changes
The Czech Republic made the switch to a more attacking style after going behind. Their two main changes were pressing and involving the full-backs in the attacks. Pressing allowed them to intercept long balls between defenders a few times. However, the Italian defenders realised that the quartet of Chiellini, De Rossi, Bonucci and Pirlo had the advantage in numbers against the Czech forwards, and could keep the ball with short passes. The Czech pressing stopped working as a result.
The involvement of the Czech full-backs in the attacks did not bring results, even though it helped them create an advantage on the right wing. Gebre Selassie was often unmarked as Mario Balotelli did not track back. However, the Czech team did not keep possession long enough in the Italian half to take advantage of this, and Gebre Selassie was substituted in the 77th minute.
Italy dominated the wings. Their wing-backs pushed up, which made them vulnerable to counter-attacks. Mario Balotelli's movement was crucial to Italy's attacking play, as he moved towards the midfield and to the left wing to create an overload Gebre Selassie. Italy's pressure became overwhelming when Pablo Osvaldo was introduced. The Czech Republic tried to change things late in the game, but they could not find an equaliser.
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