Aji Yulianto
Monday 30 March, 2009
Blog: Italy on song
There was a big hullabaloo when Italy lost to Brazil in London, but, as Steve Wilson points out, when it matters the Azzurri are doing just fine
Played five, won four, drawn one. Not a bad record for the reigning world champions at the halfway stage in the World Cup qualifiers – the matches that really matter. Back in February, when Italy lost 2-0 in a glorified exhibition match at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, the brouhaha in sections of the media was unbelievable. It was a result that, apparently, highlighted a major power shift in world football and exposed the weaknesses throughout Marcello Lippi’s squad. Or so they said.

It is to be expected though, some observers will always have their objectivity dazzled by the shiny yellow shirt of the Seleçao. The South Americans' series of friendly matches in Europe have made them little more than world football’s equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters. Sweden and Argentina join the list of nations lined-up as ‘opponents’ for Brazil in London since the 2006 World Cup – all lost, with Brazil not even conceding a goal.

People pay for the ‘experience’ of watching Brazil beat their opponent in these money-spinning glamour ties, but when it comes to the real deal – World Cup qualifiers – things aren’t as impressive. So far en route to South Africa they have drawn with such major powers as Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador and lost to Paraguay. Yes, they always under-perform in qualification, but that record is a reminder that perhaps a little perspective could have been used.

The only thing that Italy lost against Brazil was the chance to extend Lippi’s unbeaten run. It clearly did not affect them when they faced Montenegro on Saturday and will not cross their minds when they line-up against Ireland on Wednesday. That match with Giovanni Trapattoni’s side, now there is one which will gauge where the world champions are at a year or so ahead of their title defence. Win that one and they have one foot on the plane to Johannesburg.

In European qualifiers only Spain currently have a better record – with five wins from five. Germany and Holland can match La Nazionale and England, who have only played four, are also performing just as well. The fact that Lippi’s side are in the pack of leading contenders goes to show that the hot air expelled in the aftermath of that February match was unfounded. Wise observers always knew that the Montenegro-Ireland double header was the real litmus test. So far, so good.

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