If the outlook for this 2014 Italy World Cup side could be summed up with one word, it would be “uncertainty”. With one of the oldest teams in the World Cup, Serie A in the midst of a turbulent rebuilding period, and an enigmatic striker just as liable to earn a red card as a goal, Italy’s chances are nearly impossible to predict.
Having come through their World Cup qualifying group without a loss, Italy enters the tournament with mixed expectations. With the core of the team that reached the Final of Euro 2012 intact, Gli Azzuri have one of the most experienced teams in the tournament to count on. Only four players remain from Italy’s 2006 World Cup-winning squad, but with an average age of around 30 years old and an incredible wealth of European nous, panicking on the world’s biggest stage is unlikely to be an issue.
A pattern has emerged in each of Italy’s four World Cup-winning sides: a strong Juventus core. Whatever the reasons, a strong Juventus is a strong Italy. In this year’s team, Juventus’ legendary goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon will lead by example, with defensive stalwarts, Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci locks to be included in the final roster of 23 barring any misfortune. Regista Andrea Pirlo embodies every adage about fine wine, improving with age in every facet, and he will be counted on to provide the fantasy from in front of the back line. To round out the Juventus contingent, consummate team player and jack-of-all-trades Claudio Marchisio will surely make his mark in this year’s tournament as well.
Far from being the Juventus show, the cream of the crop of Serie A is represented in this year’s team, with the likes of Mario Balotelli, Daniele De Rossi and more set to make their mark in Brazil. A late injury has tragically ruled Milan captain Riccardo Montolivo out of the tournament, but up-and-comers such as Lazio’s Antonio Candreva, Torino’s Alessio Cerci and new Dortmund signing Ciro Immobile will also look to burst upon the world scene alongside youngster Marco Verratti of Paris Saint-Germain. Phenomenal young Milan talent Mattia De Sciglio is tipped to be Italy’s next great outside back, while Napoli attacker Lorenzo Insigne will also look to make a big splash, most likely from the bench.
The make-or-break factor for World Cup success often comes down to managerial decisions. In that regard, Italy are well prepared under the stewardship of the ever-elegant Prandelli. Having steered his team to an undefeated qualifying campaign, the former Fiorentina manager now has the incredibly difficult task to lead his team of veterans out of one of the hardest groups in this year’s World Cup. Tactics-wise, Prandelli has leaned towards a 4-4-2 diamond formation, or 4-3-1-2, with Andrea Pirlo protected by the workmanlike Daniele De Rossi and some combination of Claudio Marchisio, Thiago Motta or Antonio Candreva in Montolivo’s absence. Marco Verratti will also most likely have a chance to sneak into the lineup as well, while the biggest question up front is who to pair with the volatile Mario Balotelli. In the back, the biggest questions are on the flanks, with Juventus pair Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli most likely to partner each other in the heart of defense, unless Barzagli’s latest injury issues keep him out of the lineup.
Predicting Italy’s success or demise is forever a tricky proposition. In the heat of Brazil, will their ageing legs hold up? Captain Gianluigi Buffon has targeted a Quarter-Final finish, and with 25-1 odds to win the World Cup, it’s impossible to call what sort of run gli Azzuri will go on. However, with the obvious quality throughout the team and their proven pedigree at the highest level, one would be foolish to write off the footballing giants from the peninsula.
Written by Aaron West
Follow him on Twitter: @O_Fenomeno86