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EURO 2012 Preview
Prandelli bringing change to Italy
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Italy has always been known as a defense- first team, relying on one or two moments of magic in the offensive third to achieve success.

So when the Italians conceded only two goals in 10 matches during Euro qualifying, it came as little surprise.

But manager Cesare Prandelli has attempted to make the Azzurri a bit more offensive minded, which he did with some success during qualification as Italy netted 20 goals.

"The feeling was that we needed to evolve our style, to try and play a little more on the front foot," Prandelli said.

That mentality worked in qualifying, but the real question is whether or not that style of play will hold up against better opposition, like Spain for example, which will be Italy's first opponent in Group C at Euro 2012.

After a downright poor performance at the 2010 World Cup in which Italy finished last in a group that included Paraguay, Slovakia and New Zealand, Italy is in need of a fresh approach.

The question is whether or not Prandelli has the players to make it work.

Defensively, Italy will once again be led by goalkeeper and captain Gianluigi Buffon, while Giorgio Chiellini will anchor the middle of the back line.

But the key to Prandelli's new, more attack-oriented system, will be the men up front.

Solid midfield play from Claudio Marchisio, Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi will be expected, but one of Prandelli's biggest issues will be the man finishing off all of the nice passing work done in the build up.

Villarreal striker Giuseppe Rossi would have been the first choice, but he will miss the tournament with another major knee injury, leaving Prandelli with a cast of characters who each have something to prove.

Veteran Antonio Cassano led Italy in scoring during qualification, but he missed much of the season with a heart problem and there will be concerns over his fitness.

Udinese's Antonio Di Natale is coming off another successful season in Serie A in which he scored 23 goals, but he has yet to make any real impact on the international level.

And then there is the most intriguing option, Manchester City's Mario Balotelli, who has forged a reputation for being supremely talented and equally petulant.

Balotelli possesses the type of flair Italy needs, but he also is just as likely to make a foolish tackle or act out, causing more harm than good.

But Prandelli has expressed his confidence in the 21-year-old, and he believes his team is aware of what is at stake.

"When I heard Balotelli say that he will not leave Italy down to 10 men, I believed him 100 percent," Prandelli told Gazzetta dello Sport.

"There is a great atmosphere in the team and there is a big awareness that something significant can be achieved.

"The players know this is an exceptional opportunity for them, they are taking responsibility and they will not fail."

Group C presents Italy with defending champions Spain right off the bat, but then games with Croatia and Ireland will follow that Italy will be expected to win.

Prandelli appears to be confident his team can succeed with its new style of play.

But if Italy struggles in the final third early on, the side might look a bit too much like the underachieving one from a few years ago.

OUTLOOK

We will find out a lot about Italy from its opening match against group favorites Spain. A good showing, even in defeat, will be promising with Croatia and Ireland to follow. The biggest question mark for Prandelli and his team will be the play of the forwards. If Cassano, Di Natale or Balotelli shows up in good form, Italy will be a tough out for anyone and a team capable of a deep run in the tournament. If not, another disappointing exit and more criticism is sure to follow.

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