Euro 2012: Italy set to gamble on Diamanti against Germany
For a man who is best known in English football for the £1.5m that is still owed to West Ham United for his transfer to Brescia in 2010, Alessandro Diamanti is on the brink of the greatest achievement of a patchy career.
At 29, and with just three caps to his name, Diamanti is being seriously considered by Italy's coach, Cesare Prandelli, to start tonight's semi-final against Germany in attack ahead of Antonio Cassano. Prandelli said yesterday that Diamanti, for all his faults in the past, had shown something in the last month that suggested he was ready to play on such a stage.
It was Diamanti who scored the penalty that eliminated England on Sunday, and taking penalties was one thing he was always good at in his one season at West Ham, in which the club finished 17th in the Premier League. He was voted as runner-up to Scott Parker in the supporters' player of the year award that season and in the two years since, at Brescia and now Bologna, has steadily improved.
The prospect of Diamanti playing in the 2006 Italy team that won the World Cup is treated with scorn by those who watch the national team on a regular basis, but now, with less talent at their disposal, he has forced his way into the reckoning. Neither Cassano nor Mario Balotelli, Prandelli's first-choice pairing, have scored when both of them have been on the pitch at Euro 2012 and against Germany, the coach is contemplating a change.
Italy are the underdogs tonight but they have history on their side. As a nation, they have a remarkable record against the Germans in major tournaments. In seven games dating back to the 1962 World Cup finals in Chile, they have beaten Germany three times and drawn on four occasions but they have never lost to them.
Yesterday, Prandelli was asked by Italian journalists whether he could remember where he was in 1970 when Italy beat West Germany in the semi-final of the World Cup finals, or in 1982 when they won 3-1 with goals from Paolo Rossi, Marco Tardelli and Alessandro Altobelli. Or the game that many consider the best performance by the 2006 World Cup-winning side – the 2-0 win in extra time against Germany in Dortmund in the semi-final.
"What happened in the past means nothing," Prandelli said. "It's dead and buried." But he knows the power of Italy's hex over Germany and he smiled as the questions returned to it over and over again. He also said that his team had changed, that the Italian style was no longer, as proven against England, to be cagey, and that even against the fluid, attacking Germans they would stick to their approach.
"It would be a shame to waste the work of the last two years, and we would be lacking in maturity if we tried to play a different way," Prandelli said. "You must risk a bit to be true to your professional philosophy. Germany have grown. They have a lot of confidence and will have no fear of us at all."
Prandelli will also have to wait on a late fitness test for Daniele De Rossi, who has a back problem but is likely to play through the pain. Otherwise there was a postscript for Balotelli who was spotted meeting his brother outside training in Krakow this week, necessitating another assurance from Prandelli that all was well with the player.
Prandelli said: "There are no problems with him. It's interesting to work out what goes on in the head of a 21-year-old man. In terms of mentality, psychology, he has changed radically with us. He has seen his brother every day. There are no problems with communication. I'm just curious to see what he is feeling, what sacrifices he is prepared to make to become a great footballer."