VIENNA (Reuters) - World champions Italy were drab and unimaginative at Euro 2008 and deserved to be sent home with Roberto Donadoni’s position as coach now under threat.
The 4-2 defeat on penalties by Spain on Sunday after a 0-0 draw in the last quarter-final in Vienna summed up all of Italy’s problems during the tournament.
They lacked any creativity or spark in midfield and had to rely on uncharacteristic long balls and crosses to try to force an opening. Even then their final pass was often poor given the evidently tired legs across the team.
Despite the clear failings, the players are backing Donadoni. The Italian soccer federation is reviewing his role.
“We would prefer him to stay because he’s done a great job,” defender Gianluca Zambrotta told reporters. “You win, you lose, that’s football. I certainly don’t think it’s the end of a cycle.”
Big forward Luca Toni struggled throughout, failing to find the net and looking cumbersome rather than threatening. His 24 league goals for Bayern Munich last season prove he is a top striker but against the best defenders he is found wanting.
To be fair to the 31-year-old, he was often isolated up front with his constantly changing strike partners either too deep or too wide to offer support.
Donadoni favoured a three-pronged attack coming into the tournament but the 3-0 defeat by Netherlands in their opening group game made the inexperienced coach abandon all his plans and switch to a largely untried 4-3-1-2 formation.
The change did little in the 1-1 draw with Romania and only worked partially in the 2-0 win over France while his decision to alter his centre back pairing after the Dutch drubbing smacked of desperation even if it did shore up the defence.
Centre back Giorgio Chiellini, 23, is the one Italian to come out with real credit for his tough-tackling displays.
The loss of captain Fabio Cannavaro to injury just before the tournament was more important than imagined, though.
He is not the defender he was when he lifted the World Cup in Germany two years ago but he would have offered leadership.
Donadoni’s decision to switch captains between goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and Alessandro Del Piero depending on whether the striker was playing hardly gave the side guidance.
Italian media suspect Donadoni will soon be sacked with World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi poised to return.
Others who may be leaving the national side are 35-year-old defender Christian Panucci and 33-year-old Del Piero.
The forward has always been a bit part player for Italy, more so under Donadoni, and now he wants time to reflect before deciding whether to quit the international game.
“For the moment let’s just think about holidays,” he said.
Additional reporting by Trevor Huggins, editing by Jon Bramley