The international breaks are frequently frustrating, but they can also be interesting in a lot of ways. Watching your club's players do their thing in a different setup with a different set of players around them can be a fascinating experiment of sorts, to help see how they handle different tactics and setups. That's especially true in the first international match window after a major tournament like the World Cup; there tend to be a number of new managers working with their nations' players for the first time, and you also see frequent experiments with tactical setups and fringe players who don't normally get much time at this level.
Napoli had two players active yesterday and a couple more watching from the bench. Italy also had their first match under new coach Antonio Conte, giving the day a little extra interest for partenopei fans who closely follow their nation's fortunes. Let's take a look at how things went.
Italy 2-0 Netherlands
A strong opening ten minutes that saw Ciro Immobile score his first senior international goal* and Daniele De Rossi convert a penalty after Bruno Martins Indi got himself sent off for a desperation tackle in the box proved to be all Italy needed to beat a Holland side that came in third in the World Cup.They could never quite take full advantage of being up a man over the Dutch, but Italy were still able to see out the match in relative safety.
Conte set up Italy in his traditional 3-5-2, though he lacked Andrea Pirlo to sit deep in midfield and ping around note-perfect passes. He tried out Emanuele Giaccherini in a more advanced version of that role, with De Rossi as a deep holder and Claudio Marchisio serving as a shuttler, but Giaccherini struggled mightily in his attempts to serve as Italy's creator. Marco Verratti did well later on in the match, though, and could get a longer look when Italy go to Norway on Tuesday to open their European Championships qualifying campaign.
Christian Maggio watched from the bench as Matteo Darmian held down the right flank admirably, keeping Dirk Kuyt and Wesley Sneijder fairly well contained. Surprise callup Simone Zaza got the start alongside Immobile up top, but didn't take very good advantage of his opportunity as he missed what should have been a tap-in and fluffed up several other good chances.
*His hat trick against Fluminese in Italy's last pre-World Cup warmup doesn't count in the official international tally as it came against a club side.
Belgium 2-0 Australia
The Socceroos are preparing a new era without their captain and hero Tim Cahill, but his farewell tour was marred thanks in no small part to Dries Mertens. The Napoli winger scored a brilliant goal from range in the 18th minute and was a general terror in his hour of play, giving any Australia player with the ball in his part of the pitch a hard time, and using his dribbling and distribution to disrupt Australia's defense time and again.
The Australians packed their defense in tighter after Mertens' goal, making it harder for Belgium to gain a second, but they eventually broke through again when Mile Jedinak fell asleep in Australia's midfield and Axel Witsel punished him for it. Marc Wilmots' side certainly looked as though they had put their World Cup quarter final departure behind them, as they looked cool and in charge all match long.
Slovakia 1-0 Malta
Marek Hamsik started for his country and played a little over 70 minutes as the Slovaks struggled to break down a Malta side that generally kept ten men behind the ball. They did find a goal just before halftime when Hamsik found Vladimir Weiss in space on the right, who then centered the bal lfor Adam Nemec to finish off. Otherwise, it was a pretty dull match and an unremarkable (though not poor) match for Hamsik thanks to Malta's packed-in defense.
France 1-0 Spain
Spain's woes continue as they fell to France in Paris thanks to a late Loic Remy goal. A very experimental Spanish side looked incredibly disjointed and ill-prepared to take on a France squad that was very similar to the one they took to the World Cup. Not a big surprise, but France didn't press that advantage very well and the match was a very dull affair. Raul Albiol was in the Spain squad, but watched from the bench as Vicente Del Bosque decided to use Athletic Bilbao's Mikel San Jose instead, who would up being largely at fault for France's goal. Freakin' Bilbao, ruining everything.