The time has come. One game which means nearly everything. And yes, we're looking past the international juggernaut that is the Faroe Islands. Basically, take points, and the Azzurri go through to Austria & Switzerland. Lose and it's time for some meaningless friendlies until World Cup Qualifying starts (don't even get me started on the reigning champs needing to "qualify" - bullshit). Everybody on board? Good.
Last time I checked, playing in Scotland isn't exactly the same as a pitch smack dab in the middle of Candyland; unless, of course, you mean Lord Licorice's lair, at which point I'd totally agree with you. The atmosphere will be loud (drunk), raucous (drunk) and heavily leaning in the favor of the Tartan Army (drunk). If there ever was an away game, this is it. Well, on second thought, I believe it might come in a close second. Scotland has some of the best fans in Europe, and they will literally be a collective 12th man in Glasgow. But last time I checked, the Azzurri did pretty well against a team which is vastly superior to the Scots in the summer of '06. And, oh yeah, they happened to be hosting the World Cup.
The mental preparation which that provides will be huge, as much of this team was also in that starting XI in Dortmund. (Probably looking at 6 out of 11.) Therefore, this team, and especially the leaders, will know how to deal with a hostile crowd, and block it out. It's one of sport's oldest cliches, but damn it fits: "They've been there before." Of course, that time a little more was on the line...
The variable which, horrifically, hasn't remained constant is the guy calling the shots on the sideline and getting his team in the proper mindframe in the locker room. Or, in the case of Roberto Donadoni, doing neither and being an overall jackass to boot. Yes, that's code for "Donadoni is no Lippi", but I'm sure I didn't need to remind you of that. Will it be enough to make a major difference and have the big fellas forgetting what it was like in Dortmund? I don't think so and I hope not, but only time - specifically 90 minutes - will tell.
Oh, and Scotland will be at an immediate disadvantage as the game is not being played in France or against France, because they bitch French teams on a regular basis. (Which kinda sorta makes them endearing.)
Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Marco Amelia (AS Livorno Calcio), Gianluca Curci (AS Roma).
Defenders: Andrea Barzagli (US Città di Palermo), Daniele Bonera (AC Milan), Fabio Cannavaro (Real Madrid CF), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Fabio Grosso (Olympique Lyonnais), Massimo Oddo (AC Milan), Christian Panucci (AS Roma), Gianluca Zambrotta (FC Barcelona).
Midfielders: Massimo Ambrosini (AC Milan), Mauro Camoranesi (Juventus), Daniele De Rossi (AS Roma), Gennaro Gattuso (AC Milan), Simone Perrotta (AS Roma), Andrea Pirlo (AC Milan).
Forwards: Antonio Di Natale (Udinese Calcio), Alberto Gilardino (AC Milan), Vincenzo Iaquinta (Juventus), Cristiano Lucarelli (FC Shakhtar Donetsk), Raffaele Palladino (Juventus), Fabio Quagliarella (Udinese Calcio), Luca Toni (FC Bayern München).
No real surprises other than Palladino, but he's deserving of at least a spot in thhe stands (nothing more until the Faroes roll around). I'm not really understanding the uproar over the ADP and Pippo snubs. They're both pretty much finished, and are substitutes at the very best these days, unless one of them decides to switch positions.
A quality 6 midfielders, 5 of which are central. Logic would have us believe this means we're going to see a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 (or maybe he reads this page and is ready for the 4-3-1-2), but knowing Don we could see 4-4-1-1 with 4 deep-lying central mids, Gattuso in the hole and Camo up top. Why? Because he's a fucking idiot. That's why.
Goalkeepers: Craig Gordon (Sunderland AFC), David Marshall (Norwich City FC), Allan McGregor (Rangers FC).
Defenders: Graham Alexander (Burnley FC), Gary Caldwell (Celtic FC), Christian Dailly (West Ham United FC), Alan Hutton (Rangers FC), Jay McEveley (Derby County FC), Stephen McManus (Celtic FC), Gary Naysmith (Sheffield United FC), David Weir (Rangers FC).
Midfield: Scott Brown (Celtic FC), Barry Ferguson (Rangers FC), Darren Fletcher (Manchester United FC), Paul Hartley (Celtic FC), Lee McCulloch (Rangers FC), Stephen Pearson (Derby County FC), Barry Robson (Dundee United FC), Gary Teale (Derby County FC).
Forwards: Craig Beattie (West Bromwich Albion FC), Kris Boyd (Rangers FC), James McFadden (Everton FC), Shaun Maloney (Aston Villa FC), Kenny Miller (Derby County FC), Garry O'Connor (Birmingham City FC).
Azzurri: Ah, fark. Here's the lineup you're likely looking at...
Zambro, Canna, Barzagli, Grosso;
Gattuso, Pirlo, DDR;
Camo, Toni, Toto.
Alright, maybe DDR starting is kinda unlikely seeing as how Donadoni has no fucking clue what he's doing and will probably start Ambro, but I can't bring myself to line up the Milan midfield in this game. Listen, MA can "surge" into the final third all he wants, but the fact is he couldn't hit fucking Stay Puft from twenty yards with a pass (my bad, wrong pic). I'm done - and I like Ambro, I really do...but puhlease.
The other position up for debate is that LB/RB spot, where Old Man Panucci and Space Balls (Oddo's new nickname, for obvious reasons) are supposedly in competition, but I hope we see a little Fab Grosso action on the left with Zambro on the right. Fact is, the guy plays his best ball in the shirt and has proven he shines on the biggest of stages. So expect to see Space Balls in the XI.
* - The one reason I won't be too upset if Grosso is on the pine is because Scott Brown could give him absolute hell, and it might be best if Zambro deals with him. However, if I'm coach, Grosso has a starting place in my squad for what goes down in my book as the greatest goal celebration of all time. What a moment. (Biased? Nah.)
Otherwise, there is little else we can say about The Don's choices when it comes to tactics. They'll probably struggle mightily to score a goal (or to pluralize that), and 99.999999999% of the offensive opportunities will come through one Andrea Pirlo. Luckily enough, on the other side, it will be just a hard to break down the Azzurri defense. Unless, of course, they take to the wings, where a three-legged Schnauzer has been able to expose them as of late.
Oh, and then there's that Tonigol guy.....
Scotland: Please forgive me for knowing little (read: nothing) about Scottish football. What I do know is that they're less "joga bonito" and more "fuck, is this over yet?". Therefore, here's my guess at Scotland's tactics:
Ian's got his XI up (and preview), which reads a little something like this:
Naysmith, McManus, Hutton, Weir;
Brown, Ferguson, Hartley, McCulloch;
Tonigol's Noggin v The Entire Tartan Army (And Navy, For That Matter): Did you watch that video? The only Scot who could've stopped him that day was William Wallace himself (don't ask me why I know this, but it's because the real Wallace was like 6'8 - not because Mel Gibson was badass). Unless Scotland has somehow put out a couple of elite defenders in the last 6 months or so (they haven't), they don't have a prayer of stopping him from getting to balls up high. Therefore, expect a Tonigol header or two in the net.
(If I'm a Scot, my prayer is that Space Balls is in the lineup, so you man mark all other 9 players, leave him all by his lonesome on the right and let him send crosses towards Greenland all day.)
Italy v Hampden Park: I'm of the belief that intangibles matter more for country than club. Why I don't know, but I've always run with that train of thought. Which is exactly why Scotland's home record in the qualifiers terrifies me: 6 games, 6 wins, 15 goals scored, 3 conceded. There isn't much more to say other than "yikes" and hope the boys in (the good) blue play their farkin' arses off. If they don't.......
Azzurri v The Flanks: As Ukraine displayed in September, getting down the flanks against the Azzurri for good teams can be akin to a Sunday stroll in the park at times. This is not one of those games that you want to allow space out wide, especially on the counter for Scotland. Scott Brown, one of Celtic's whizkids, is mad pacy and can beat most fullbacks down the line. Lock him down, or else. Same goes for McCulloch on the other side, although he's not nearly as talented. But it's in the biggest games that the most unheralded players tend to shine. Underestimate nobody, especially those in an area of your own weakness.
Can Somebody, For The Love Of God, Please Create Some @#$%in' Scoring Chances On This Team? v Roberto Donadoni: This is one game where the only thing that matters is the end result, and I could give a fuck all about the means. However, the only way the boys can get that result is if they either play out to a nil-nil draw (entirely possible) or create some freakin' chances already. As is said after nearly every game, this team would be nowhere without Andrea Pirlo. It would be nice to get him a little help, but The Don Doni don't play that. Can they win despite playing what will probably be one of the biggest, yet ugliest, games in European qualifying history? Maybe. But DDR would be nice sending in some passes or scoring from distance, ya know...
To me there are two: Gennaro Gattuso and Fabio Cannavaro. I suspect Ivan has been waiting for this game for a very long time, considering his fondness for his old stomping grounds as well as the fact that his Mrs. is Scottish (So who does she root for? The hubby or what could be the greatest football victory/upset in the history of her homeland?). He'll give us his greatest attribute and play his enormous heart out.
Last year, when the Azzurri needed their captain the most, Fabio put on a virtuoso performance in Germany and earned the Golden Ball in a 4 week period. They need him once again. We don't get to see many vintage Canna performances these days, this very well may be one. If anyone understands what needs to be done at Hampden Park, it's Fabio.
The way I see it, it's either going to be an ugly one goal win or an exceptionally ugly draw (it's going to be Wayne Rooney ugly on Saturday no matter what - which is really really bad). What I don't see is Scotland beating Ivan & Ambro/DDR, then the back line...and then the best keeper in the world. Sure, they may play well and valiantly, but Scotland can't stop Tonigol, nor can anybody in the world seemingly stop Andrea Pirlo. The D combined with those two will be enough to take a hard fought 1-0 victory out of Scotland.
Goal: Tonigol (47)
MOTM: Canna, giving us flashbacks of Germany (God was that beautiful)
When: 1800CET, 1700 Scottish Time, 1200 US EST
Where: Hampden Park, Glasgow, Scotland
Forecast: 5°C, high winds and rain. Oh boy. Welcome to the UK in November.
And of course.......
(That video being in French is incredibly satisfying, no?)
Still Campioni del Mondo.