Breaking Down Italy’s First Goal

Was it Italy’s execution or the result of a small lapse in England’s defending?

England started surprisingly well against Italy, but the first goal of the game came from a perfectly executed set-piece by the Azzurri. Italy deserves more credit than England does blame. But the English did make two minor mistakes on the play.

Defending set pieces is all about concentration. As a player, it’s tempting to take a moment to relax while while someone else player retrieves the ball, places it on the ground, steps back, and surveys the options. So much pressing. Can I get some water, please? It’s the worst thing you can do.

You need to be more vigilant on set-pieces than any other play in the game. As Alexi Lalas puts it, “Water is to life what set pieces are to soccer.” They are obvious, crucial moments in the game.

This one began with a short corner kick. Two English players ran out to mark the Italians involved, and another player was marking Andrea Pirlo at the top of the 18-yard box. It’s tough to point a finger. But these are professional players and set pieces are crucial moments, so point we shall.

When the ball is played from the corner, Daniel Sturridge is walking toward the top of the box. He has done the work to get back, but now he’s taking a mental break as the ball comes into play. You can clearly see that he doesn’t expect to be involved. As a result, he’s late to Pirlo when the ball arrives. If he had been in his spot, even giving the impression that he was more prepared, it might have deterred Italy from trying the play in the first place, or he might have been more prepared to break up the play when the ball arrived at Pirlo’s feet.

A couple seconds from a single player, not even a glaringly horribly couple seconds, created a big mess.

It also appears that England is lacking leadership on the play. After the players take their spots, someone or a couple players need to push the squad. Come on guys. Stay tight. Let’s do this. When you watch the England players before the ball is kicked, none of them is taking charge. This may seem like a small thing, but every set piece is a battle. Someone needs to be the commander, get the troops ready, and keep them focused.

At every step of the play—Baines and Sterling closing the first pass, then Sturridge tracking Pirlo, then the defenders getting out of the goal area toward Marchisio—England looks a little sluggish.

Overall, England does a decent job of preparing for the corner. It isn’t a blatant lapse. The English just weren’t quite perfect. And Italy ran a fantastic play to punish them. If Italy hadn’t executed the play smoothly, we wouldn’t be talking about it.

And so, in this case, maybe we should applaud quality rather than assign blame, though the English fans surely won’t!