The Italian national team has a history of prospering in the wake of domestic disarray. The side that won their nation’s fourth World Cup in 2006, several of which will feature again this summer, did so on the back of the damaging Calcioppoli affair, while in their 1982 victory, striker Paolo Rossi had just returned from a ban for his part in a betting scam. This term has seen no such controversy, but the Azzuri’s problems are far more deep-rooted than the absence of a seemingly team-building Serie A scandal.
Marcello Lippi’s reluctance to part with members of his 2006 squad may be key in Italy’s probable failure to retain their title. While Buffon is still a world-class custodian despite an injury plagued season, defenders Grosso (32), Zambrotta (33) and captain Cannavaro (36), are looking every bit their age. All three have endured miserable Serie A campaigns and lack the pace and incisiveness that made them integral four years ago. The only positive to be drawn from the backline is the inclusion of Giorgio Chiellini. The centre half has grown into his role as Juventus’ defensive lynchpin admirably, providing presence, vision and a maturity beyond his 25 years.
In midfield Camoranesi (also 33) will occupy the right wing, despite an apparent loss of fitness and creative spark. Pirlo will feature, with his impressive passing range and dead ball accuracy an ever present threat. While many suggest his attributes would see him best utilized as a ‘trequartista’ at the point of the diamond, it is likely we will see Pirlo in his favoured deep-lying role. Exciting Juventus product and ‘Pirlo-lite’ Marchisio will sit alongside the man many believe to be the cornerstone of Italy’s next great side, Daniele De Rossi. The defensive midfielder possesses all the bustle, energy and skill of Gerrard, though unlike the Englishman, delivers consistently masterful performances for his country.
Talk of Totti and Del Piero returning to the international fold is garnering excitement among the more deluded members of the Italian press, which sums up the lacklustre attack. Though Gilardino is a poacher in the mould of Paolo Rossi, the Fiorentina hit-man who has 16 goals in 39 international appearances contributes sparsely in build up play. Giuseppe Rossi showed flashes of brilliance in a disappointing Confederations Cup campaign last summer, and is regarded as the only creative option alongside Gilardino, given the baffling exclusion of Cassano from Lippi’s squad…