Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODPASTIMES -

THE abil­ity to stick to­gether when things get se­ri­ous, added to the coun­try’s prone­ness to be­lieve in mir­a­cles, are Italy’s best cards as the Az­zurri squad look to re­tain their ti­tle at the 2010 World Cup.

In 2006, the fourth lift­ing of the tro­phy af­ter a penalty shoot-out with France was the tri­umph of what coach Mar­cello Lippi likes to call “the spirit of the group”.

As a group, how­ever, Italy’s 2006 squad were deadly. At the fi­nals in Ger­many, they had 10 play­ers on tar­get to score 12 goals, while con­ced­ing only an own goal and a penalty.

The Az­zurri’s sit­u­a­tion looks sim­i­lar to that of 2006 – or maybe a lit­tle worse.

The back­bone of the team has re­mained the same, mean­ing that goal­keeper Gian­luigi Buf­fon, cap­tain Fabio Can­navaro, Fabio Grosso and Gian­luca Zam­brotta are now four years older as they man the de­fence – their ages rang­ing from 32 to 36 next year.

Mid­field­ers Gen­naro Gat­tuso and An­drea Pirlo also hope that their ex­pe­ri­ence has in­creased with age as Lippi has found no ris­ing star among the sev­eral new­com­ers he tested.

Sam­p­do­ria’s An­to­nio Cas­sano, pos­si­bly the best sup­port­ing striker in the Serie A, never met the favour of Lippi. His ex­clu­sion has trig­gered ru­mours and al­le­ga­tions which Lippi seems ready to live with as he forges his squad for a suc­cess that would push Italy level with five-time win­ners Brazil.

The Star: Equally ef­fec­tive be­tween the posts and in tackling on­rush­ing strik­ers, Buf­fon is the most nom­i­nated as best cus­to­dian by the In­ter­na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of Foot­ball His­tory and Statis­tics, whose award he re­ceived four times. He closed the 2006 World Cup beaten only twice and came in sec­ond be­hind Bal­lon d’Or win­ner Fabio Can­navaro.

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