The bigger you are, the harder you fall.
Italy was on top of the world in 2006, having defeated France and plucked its fourth World Cup title. Four years later, in South Africa, the World Champions fell hard, crashing out of the group stage in last place.
The positive, then, was that Italy has nowhere left to go but up, and up they went.
The Italian national team, managed by Cesare Prandelli, has gone through a resurgence and is looking to make its case for a fifth World Cup this summer in Brazil. The Azzurri bounced back from a World Cup disappointment by finishing second in Euro 2012, losing to Spain.
Then, in the Confederations Cup in 2013, Italy once again showed its skills, finishing third.
How will Italy fare in the 2014 FIFA World Cup?
It’s tough to say.
Italy faces a much tougher group this time around than they did in 2010. In the last World Cup, Italy finished last in a group consisting of Paraguay, Slovakia and New Zealand, hardly a group worth worrying about.
Perhaps it was this complacency that caused the demise of Italy the last time around. This time, the Italian team has quality opposition it cannot take lightly. Uruguay is a mighty side and while Costa Rica may be easy to overlook, England will also pose a challenge. It is one of Uruguay and England that Italy will need to beat, if not both, to advance into the next stage of the competition.
The 2006 World Cup winning generation has slowly stepped away, with players like captain Fabio Cannavaro and Juventus legend Alessandro Del Piero no longer in the fold. However, Italy does still utilize some of the old guard, and they are, arguably, the team’s most important players.
The current captain, Gianluigi Buffon, is still one of the best goalkeepers in the world. At 36 years old, he’s at an age where goalkeepers start to show a bit of their age but it is a position that ages well. His experience and wisdom has been forged over decades of net minding and Italy will look to draw on Buffon against offense-heavy sides like Uruguay.
In the middle of the park, both Daniele De Rossi and Andrea Pirlo are instrumental to making Italy tick. Pirlo, in particular, is a key figure. He is the cog that makes the entire starting XI work. His ability to contribute defensively is matched by his keen sense of vision and his passing touch hasn’t lost a step.
He can also hit a mean free kick.
Up top, Alberto Gilardino could stake his claim. The 31-year-old Genoa forward has been in good spirits and fine form and while he earned the latest call-up, he’ll need to keep up his club performances to earn a spot in that final roster.
Like England, Italy has a good crop of younger players coming through its ranks. However, unlike England, those younger players are already well-established starters. Italy is about four to five years ahead of England in the cycle that sees new internationals replacing older ones.
It means Italy can rely on players like Mario Balotelli, Ricardo Montolivo, Claudio Marchisio, Giorgio Chiellini and Pablo Osvaldo, all under 30 years old and starting for their respective clubs.
If ever there was a side capable of reaching a final spot, it’s this one. These players are in the prime of their careers, most in the age range of 26-29. As always, Italy has depth in every single one of the 23 roster spots – and, as always, it’s not about finding players, but finding the right combination of players for Italy.
Slow moving, tactically brilliant and with an articulate counter attack, Italy is a side heavily reliant on proper combination. While teams like Germany or France field its best 11 players on the day, Italy often falls back upon tried and true duos or trios in the backline, midfield or up top.
It’s not about fielding the best names for Italy, but rather, the players that work best together.
There’s an old saying that the Italian national team only ever performs well when the team is filled with players from Juventus.
This current national team most certainly fits that bill.
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