By Richard Hall (@Gentleman_Ultra)
A fit and in form Antonio Candreva will be key to Italy’s progress in Euro 2016.
Against Belgium Antonio Candreva was perhaps an unsung hero, or perhaps he was just one of the various cogs that operated well in Antonino Conte’s machine but either way, he was essential. For the Azzurri to progress deep into the competition, the traditional Italian winger will have to continue his form from the opening game and from the qualifiers. He is arguably the most potent weapon they have in their armory and can cause havoc on the right hand side when as well as from dead balls.
“Effectively (the wing) is my nest position, here I can give my best” the 29 year-old told Gazzetta Dello Sport. It is true that is performances in the qualifiers had been superb as on occasion he dragged his team to the finishing line and eventually helped them finish top of the group. The moment that encapsulated this in Croatia back in June 2015, when in front of a hostile crowd in Split, the Azzurri were awarded a penalty. Up stepped the Lazio man and in true European Championship tradition he chipped in a delicate Panenka penalty that drew his team level. It was a beautiful piece of skill from the man who trained as a striker in the Roma youth academy, that was until Andrea Stramaccioni converted him into a winger.
Despite numerous performances through the qualifiers that saw him imitate the great Italian number 7’s like Angelo Domenghini and Bruno Conti, the Lazio player was struggling to help Lazio in their domestic season. The Aquile had had a superb campaign the season before last, on the back enthusiastic and clinical seasons from Miroslav Klose and Felipe Anderson, Candreva thrived scoring ten times and offering nine assists in the process. His ability to score goals, his speed, dribbling ability, superb range of crossing and passing made him an integral part of the Aquile that year.
The last season saw Lazio drop off as they finished a disappointing eighth but while the team from the Eternal City languished in mid-table for much of it, the 29 year-olds’ form was constant. Another ten goals (albeit there were a few penalties amongst these) and three assists did not tell the full story as he also developed defensively. This arguably has more adept to playing in a fluid Conte 3-5-2 when it comes to the national team and simply added to his skill set. This was evident against Belgium as he showed his will to track back and fit into a back five at times as well as marauding down the right wing.
The Azzurri coach would no doubt be concerned over apparent hamstring injury he picked up against Sweden in the 1-0 win in Toulouse. Despite playing the full 90 minutes and being seen celebrating wildly with the team at the end of the game he was assessed after the game for the injury. A statement released by the Italian camp said that the player would be assessed daily and certainly would be rested for the game against the Republic of Ireland.
Another injury in the Azzurri midfield is the last thing the team need as they were already decimated in that area pre-tournament as Marco Verratti and Claudio Marchisio were both ruled out. Whilst the Lazio man is preferred as a winger and prefers this himself he is also versatile and could be deployed as a Trequartista and even can drop into a deeper role. His expansive rage of passing and his improved defensive awareness means he could fit into the role vacated by the now New York based Andrea Pirlo.
It is not only his national team coach that has realised how many tools he has in his box and it this reason why he is being linked to a plethora or teams like Internazionale and Chelsea. The links with the Milan club have been the main ones that will not go away but his agent, Frederico Pastorello, was coy on the rumours offering the opinion that Euro 2016 would certainly be a shop window.
The cold hard facts are that Candreva is an asset at club level but for the Azzurri’s so far surprising campaign he could be essential. After defeat to the Republic of Ireland, players like the Lazio man will be pivotal for Italian progression, especially against Spain. He is a player who isn’t scared to take a risk, a player who wants the ball and is a player who, as he proved in Split with his Panenka, can handles the pressure.