Two top international sides played to a scoreless draw today, and GGFN’s Jon Mackenzie recaps the action.
International football has undergone a death in recent years. With the increasing commodification of the game, the gap between the international game with its roots in amatuerism on the one hand and the capitalist self interest of the domestic on the other has rendered the former almost superfluous. When it comes to international friendlies, therefore, any interest that once existed has waned almost entirely.
In this case, though, there was a little more at stake: this was old versus new, the long-term coach versus the first-timer, the almost ubiquitous 4-2-3-1 versus the a la mode three at the back. Although he is only recently appointed, the new Italian coach, Giampiero Ventura, has fallen seamlessly into the footsteps of his predecessor, Antonio Conte. This was a classic Conte line-up: 3-5-2 which began to look like 5-3-2 in certain passages. Accordingly, the game followed an almost predictable pattern. The Germans playing their contemporary pressing football which fizzed and popped; the Italians bedding in and grinding their way through the match with passion making up where talent was lacking. In the end, it was almost destined that these old rivals would end up drawing.
The first half unfolded much as people expected it would: the Germans retained most of the possession, working the ball into dangerous positions and going close on a number of occasions. Leon Goretzka came closest, running onto a ball from Ilkay Gundogan but being denied by a diving Gianluigi Buffon who stopped him from capitalising. In spite of the German dominance of play, the Italians were causing problems of their own, working the counter-attack to great effect as they released both Ciro Immobile and Andrea Belotti on a number occasions. As the half wore on, die Mannschaft started to get the better of their opponents but they were unable to break the deadlock before they returned to the dressing room at half time.
Immediately after the break, the Azzurri took the initiative and caused Germany more problems through their strike duo of Immobile and Belotti, the latter firing a shot from long range that troubled Bernd Leno in the German goal. Daniele De Rossi was controlling the midfield area to such an extent that Joachim Löw was forced to make changes, introducing Serge Gnabry and Kevin Volland into the game. Volland had the ball in the net moments later only to be adjudged offside. From here, though, the tides turned in Italy’s favour: Leno did well to get down to a shot from Federico Bernardeschi as the German’s began inviting trouble with their deep defence. More chances fell to the tireless Italian forward pair of Immobile and Belotti, Belotti coming closest as he smashed a shot against the post from distance.
By the time the referee blew the final whistle, many of the questions at the forefront of people’s minds remained unanswered. Will the German juggernaut roll on unhindered despite this Italian renaissance? Has the time of the back four receded in international footballing in the wake of the emergence of a new popularity for three at the back? One thing is for certain, both Germany and Italy are thinking carefully about the futures of their respective teams and, on the showing of tonight’s game, both of these futures look bright.