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Italy Camp Focus – Serbia could face Euro expulsion but would the Azzurri benefit?

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By Mina Rzouki

Thursday 14 October 2010

It was a sad day for Serbian football as hooligans at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris in Genoa caused mayhem in the stands and forced Tuesday’s Euro 2012 Group C qualifier with Italy to be abandoned after just six minutes, actions which may lead to their country’s disqualification from the competition. In the build-up to the match, Fiorentina’s Serbian Coach Sinisa Mihajlovic described his nation’s players as “lunatics”. Obviously no blame should be attached to Mihajlovic but perhaps he is now wishing he’d used a different turn of phrase in light of the appalling events.

It’s not clear what the motives were for the Serbian attacks, though it’s possible it may have been partly an overwhelming protestation against their Football Association following Friday’s embarrassing 3-1 home defeat to Estonia, coupled with the recent dismissal of their much-loved Coach, Radomir Antic.

Antic, who boasts the unique accolade of having coached Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, came to power in 2008 and was tasked with getting Serbia to qualify for the World Cup 2010. Having suffered three straight defeats at the 2006 World Cup Finals, Serbia wanted a Coach with vast experience and organised tactics to accrue the sort of success they felt they had the potential to achieve.

Antic immediately set to work with changing the mindset of the players, instilling them with belief in their capabilities. His efforts paid off as the Serbs topped a qualifying group containing European heavyweights France. Unfortunately, poor form in the World Cup finals led to Antic’s dismissal after only two Euro 2012 qualifiers, sparking outrage from the nation which held him in such high esteem.

The Serbian Football Federation President was quoted as saying:

"We will do all we can to qualify for Euro 2012 but it is not imperative because stronger teams than Serbia failed to qualify for recent major tournaments and it won't be a disaster if we don't make it.”

If failure to qualify is not a tragic occurrence then why sack a man who guided the Balkan country to the World Cup finals in such an impressive manner?

However, it’s also likely the away following had a political agenda due to the meeting between Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, and Serbian President Boris Tadic on the topic of Serbia’s continuing dispute over Kosovo, which took place on the same day as the Euro qualifier. Clinton’s arrival incensed the nation as her husband’s administration was the impetus behind NATO bombings of Serbian cities in 1999.

Unfortunately a thug element ruined a highly anticipated match between two strong footballing nations. Thankfully, many of those who orchestrated the fiasco have been detained but it certainly left the many Italian children brought to enjoy the match with chilling memories.

In some respects, many will consider it a positive outcome for Italy, who may well walk away with a 3-0 victory and be clear at the top of the qualifying group. However, the delinquent Serbian fans have robbed Prandelli of a chance to test out a 4-4-2 formation from the start, with Sampdoria duo Antonio Cassano and Giampaolo Pazzini up front.

One has not been able to form a solid opinion of Prandelli’s Azzurri as they have yet to take on a competitive team with the ability to pose them major problems. Serbia were the country Italy feared most in the group as they boast extraordinary talent and a desire to attain success. They would have been the most likely side to highlight the weaknesses within la Nazionale, especially with their pace of their play, and given a clearer idea as to what needs to be fixed and how.

As such, on a psychological level the events of Tuesday are a blow as they denied the squad the opportunity to bond and put into practice lessons they learned from the Northern Ireland clash on Friday. They also cut short what should have been a useful period of time for the youngsters bereft of European and international experience to gain a significant insight into what it takes to play on the highest platform.

There is a hidden danger for squads qualifying from ‘easy’ groups if it means they haven’t been truly tested. It could be argued arriving at a big tournament such as Euro 2012 becomes an unwittingly tougher test in those circumstances as both the pressure and the physical strength of the best teams are on a much higher scale, potentially leading to inadequate preparation.

Should a victory be attributed to them, Italy need to be careful not to lose the hunger required to succeed in these European qualifiers. They are likely to sit at the top of the table with a healthy lead but could be in danger of not straining themselves to achieve points. It will up to the players and Coach alike to keep focus and prove otherwise.

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