|WCQ Preview: Italy – Georgia|
|Written by Sandro|
|Tuesday, 09 September 2008 15:11|
Italy kicked off the defence of their World Cup trophy with a 2-1 win over Cyprus in Larnaca on Saturday. However, to say that this victory was fortuitous is an understatement, as the home side dominated for long periods, missing numerous chances, and only succumbing to a 91st minute winner from two-goal hero Antonio Di Natale.
Di Natale was one of only two Italy players, the other being Gianluigi Buffon - who made a string of superb saves - to impress on the night, as the Azzurri somehow escaped from Cyprus with all three points.
The Italian media have been having a field day in their criticism of the Azzurri and coach Marcello Lippi, with the long-list of complaints including the decision to play Luca Toni and Alberto Gilardino, as well as the mystifying Brazil style formation choice.
Lippi has admitted that there is “no doubt we got more than what we deserved” against the Cypriots, and he is set to make wholesale changes for the match with Georgia in Udine (see team news below).
Italy have a good recent record against the East Europeans, having beaten them home and away in their Euro 2008 qualifying campaign, and they should be confident of another three points, which could take them to top of Group 8.
Georgia In Emotional Turmoil
It is often said football is everything, but this most certainly will not be the case for the Georgia players who arrive at the Stadio Friuli on Wednesday night, with the political situation in their country still very much in turmoil.
This is all relates to the recent war between Georgia and Russia, which began just over a month ago on August 7.
The hostilities led to numerous casualties, with thousands of Georgians displaced from their homes and towns. Eventually a ceasefire was agreed, and talks are now ongoing for a permanent solution, but there is still understandable chaos, uncertainty, and distress among all Georgians.
On Saturday night the national team kicked off their World Cup campaign at home against Ireland, but were forced to play the match on a neutral ground in Mainz , Germany.
They fell to a 2-1 defeat, and new coach Hector Cuper has admitted that the war in Georgia had contributed to the defeat.
“The team came out filled with pride, but with little serenity,” he stated.
“The war is in the head of my boys. It is normal. My national team suffers along with all Georgians. It is not easy to play football within this atmosphere.”
As a result of the current situation, Georgia will not be given much hope of getting a result on Wednesday night, but paradoxically it may allow them to go out with no fear.
06/09 (World Cup 2010 Qualifier): Cyprus-Italy 1-2
20/08 (Friendly): Italy-Austria 2-2
22/06 (Euro 2008): Italy-Spain 0-0 (2-4 on penalties)
17/06 (Euro 2008): Italy-France 2-0
13/06 (Euro 2008): Italy-Romania 1-1
06/09 (World Cup 2010 Qualifier played in Mainz): Georgia-Ireland 1-2
21/08 (Friendly): Wales-Georgia 1-2
31/05 (Friendly): Portugal-Georgia 2-0
28/05 (Friendly): Estonia-Georgia 1-1
28/03 (Friendly): Northern Ireland-Georgia 4-1
Italy have a whole host of injury problems coming into this game, with no fewer than four players having to withdraw from Marcello Lippi’s original squad for the qualifying double-header. Third choice goalkeeper Gianluca Curci came in for Marco Amelia last week, but Lippi has decided not to call any replacements for Fabio Grosso and Alessandro Gamberini, who were injured against Cyprus. Rino Gattuso dislocated his hand in a freak training ground accident on Sunday, and will be out for a month. Palermo’s Antonio Nocerino is a late call-up for the Milan man.
Lippi is expected to make a whole host of changes for the game. Nicola Legrottaglie and Andrea Dossena should be introduced in defence, while Alberto Aquilani may replace the tired Andrea Pirlo in midfield. Up-front Luca Toni may be dropped, with Alessandro Del Piero and Vincenzo Iaquinta fighting it out for his place.
Possible Italy Team: Gianluigi Buffon; Gianluca Zambrotta, Fabio Cannavaro, Nicola Legrottaglie, Andrea Dossena; Mauro Camoranesi, Daniele De Rossi, Alberto Aquilani; Alessandro Del Piero, Alberto Gilardino, Antonio Di Natale.
Latest reports suggest that Cuper will make just two changes to the team who lost against Ireland, with Levan Mchedlidze coming in for Rati Aleksidze up-front, and the injured Zurab Khizanishvili making way also, possibly for Malkhaz Asatiani.
There will be a notable Serie A link thanks to Mchedlidze, who is on-loan at Palermo from Empoli, and Kakha Kaladze, who is at Milan. Coach Cuper also used to boss Inter, and was in charge during their infamous May 5 title collapse in 2002.
Possible Georgia Team: George Loria; Ucha Lobjanidze, Malkhaz Asatiani, Kakha Kaladze, George Shashiashvili; Levan Kobiashvili, David Odikadze, Zurab Menteshashvili, Levan Kenia; Aleksandr Iashvili, Levan Mchedlidze.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Antonio Di Natale (Italy)
Di Natale has had a stunning start to the 2008/09 season, scoring four goals in his two games for club-and country. On Saturday night, the Udinese forward saved Italy’s blushes with a clinical finish in injury time to earn all three points against Cyprus. The 30-year-old will again be the Azzurri’s most dangerous frontman against Georgia.
Kakha Kaladze (Georgia)
It will be up to Georgia’s most recognised player to try and shackle Di Natale. If centre back Kaladze manages to do so, much of Italy’s attacking threat will have been nullified. The Milan man has had a shaky start to the season for his club, but he will be hoping to prove a point against a number of familiar Serie A faces.
The media slaughtering that Italy have received since Saturday will certainly provoke a reaction, and with Georgia in emotional turmoil, it should be a relatively comfortable home victory. Don't expect any free-flowing football though.