ROME: World champions Italy will be expecting nothing less than plain sailing in South Africa next month in a Group F where they are the clear favourites.
A pairing with New Zealand, Paraguay and debutants Slovakia makes comfortable viewing for a team that has been anything but brilliant since lifting the world crown for a fourth time in Germany four years ago. Slovakia will be making their first ever appearance and New Zealand only their second, their first being back in 1982 when they lost all three matches. The toughest prospect will undoubtedly be Paraguay, who battled through tough South- American qualifiers to reach the World Cup for the fourth time in a row and eighth time in total, but have never been beyond the second round.
There are nonetheless a few surprises in the provisional 28-man squad named by Italy coach Marcello Lippi as he included Villarreal striker Giuseppe Rossi but left out Fabio Grosso and his omission leaves just eight players in the 28 who were part of the World Cup-winning squad four years ago: goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, captain Fabio Cannavaro, full-back Gianluca Zambrotta, midfielders Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi, winger Mauro Camoranesi and forwards Vincenzo Iaquinta and Alberto Gilardino.
Though lacking the star-studded line-up he had last time around, Lippi, who went on to guide Italy to their first World Cup win in 24 years, does he have the experience orchestrating victories.
Reputations mean nothing, which he proved by ignoring calls in the media to call-up the likes of Francesco Totti, Alessandro Del Piero, Antonio Cassano and even Mario Balotelli. The only things that count for Lippi are hard work and team ethic.
“I had players who were great for the group’s cohesion, winners who really had the desire to give everything for their team-mates” said Lippi. “They together formed a group where no-one felt superior to anyone else.”
What Italy and in particular those players have shown in the past is that they know how to play as a team and get results.
It all points to worrying times for Italy but if any team can master a major competition it is them, and it would be no surprise to see them scraping through to the latter rounds with a series of tight victories by 1-0 or even on penalties.
Published in the Express Tribune, May 25th, 2010.