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.