By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Editor
Just as happened during the domestic season, Juventus' Italian contingent return from Euro 2012 having experienced defeat in their final match, but once again, they'd exceeded all expectations on their way there.
The Scudetto holders sent eight players to the finals in Poland and Ukraine, all for the Azzurri, which in itself showed just how far they came over the 2011-12 season. However, with some clubs starting to return to training ahead of the new term already, the large group of internationals only just finishing their previous campaign leaves Juve wondering just what condition their players may be in when they report to Vinovo in late July.
After a season with very few midweek matches, the Bianconeri's internationals eventually showed signs of lethargy after a demanding tournament schedule, and they will take their delayed summer holidays after their most chaotic run of the last 18 months.
Ultimately, the octet should return with spirits high. Despite the disappointment of the mauling by Spain in the final, each played their part in the Azzurri's excellent run, with six of them having been regular starters when fit and available.
Andrea Pirlo was one of three Juve men to feature in the entirety of Italy's tournament involvement, and he left Ukraine with his reputation advanced even beyond previous high levels. The regista has found himself mentioned in Ballon d'Or nominee conversations after following up his magnificent domestic season by proving to be just as much an influence for the Azzurri.
He has said he hopes to still be around for the World Cup in 2014 but, first and foremost, Juventini will be hoping that his excellent form can be carried over into August and September.
Alongside him for the full six matches was Juve team-mate Claudio Marchisio. The local boy's contribution was nowhere near as total as Pirlo's, but he proved once more to be a key to Cesare Prandelli's midfield. At 26, Marchisio should be able to overcome the mental and physical drain of the past month without too many problems, and the experience he has gathered in that time could well help him to become a more complete player.
The final Bianconero to play every minute of the campaign was goalkeeper and captain Gianluigi Buffon. The 34-year-old racked up a clean sheet run of over 300 minutes as Italy hit peak form, and on the whole reinstated himself as one of the game's very best keepers at the top level.
After an extended season in which he has missed only a couple of games with injury, it would appear that he has recovered from the back injury which had hampered him so badly in the previous 18 months, and it will be important that he is available for the Champions League campaign to come.
Leonardo Bonucci started five of Italy's games, and his form was a pleasant surprise to many as he forced Cesare Prandelli's hand just as he had Antonio Conte's at club level. Again, Giorgio Chiellini was eventually pushed out to left-back as his coach found it difficult to leave out the improving Bonucci. However, his failure to cut down Jordi Alba's run for the crucial second goal in the final showed that he still has much to learn, given a lack of instinct in his play at times, suggesting that he may be under most pressure from the impending arrival of Lucio at Juventus Stadium.
Chiellini's involvement in the knockout stage was hugely compromised by the hamstring injury he suffered in the Group C clash with Republic of Ireland. Though he returned for the semi-final win over Germany, he looked a long way short of full fitness, and his handicap was clear for all to see from minute one of the final, in which he lasted just 21 minutes.
Thankfully for Chiellini, he will now get the necesary time off to nurse himself back to 100 per cent, although he will be eager to get back into full flow in order to silence some doubters after he was cited as the man responsible for a couple of goals conceded, including the opener in Sunday's final.
The final Juve defender to don the Savoy blue this summer, Andrea Barzagli, had a competition which summed up his international career. He bounced back from injury to become one of La Nazionale's stand-out players in much the same way as he returned to the reckoning recently after falling out of favour for a number of years after a disappointing spell around the time of Euro 2008.
By the end of the tournament, he had become the first name on Prandelli's teamsheet defensively, and - injuries permitting - may well be able to stave off the threat of demotion in the Juve ranks after Lucio's arrival if he can maintain his form after the break.
Emanuele Giaccherini saw no further action after playing the first two fixtures in Group C, as he became the sacrificial lamb when the commissario tecnico switched to a flat back-four. However, with his relegation to the fringes being tactical rather than anything to do with his form, it would be very harsh to suggest his tournament was anything other than a success. After joining Juventus from Cesena only last summer, few could have envisaged he'd make such an impact for both club and country, and he should head into 2012-13 with a real spring in his step.
Finally, Sebastian Giovinco returns to Vinovo after two years with Parma with a further two substitute appearances under his belt at international level. He looked particularly lively in the opening game against eventual conquerors Spain, but he remains on the outside looking in as far as the Azzurri are concerned. It will be interesting to see now how Giovinco reacts to the likelihood of less game time than he became used to with the Ducali, with a promising future with Italy also a possibility if he can hit the ground running once he dons the black and white stripes once more.
On the whole, Conte can take a lot more positives than negatives from what he has seen over the past month, with the lethargy evident in all of Juve's internationals by the end likely to be only short-term concerns. With a major tournament final being added to their CVs, the Bianconeri contingent can surely only benefit from the experience as they head for a return to the Champions League and a title defence in seven weeks time.
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