The Italians are renowned for producing and showcasing endless talent on the world stage, such stars have more than played their part in raising Italy’s reputation over the years as one of International Football’s dominant forces. As the Italians look to the forthcoming world cup in South Africa, experienced manager Marcello Lippi will be hoping that his influencial superstars don’t go missing in the games that matter.
The side boasts a wealth of experience as well as young talent that combine to play fast-flowing attacking football. However Lippi’s provisional squad has seen a shake-up of sorts, with the likes of Luca Toni and Grosso missing out, handing a chance to young guns including Bonucci and Pazzini to show what they can do in the forthcoming freindlies against Mexico and Switzerland.
There are a handful of players that stand out as being pivotal if Italy are to equal Brazil’s tally of five world titles. First and foremost their goalkeeper ‘Mr reliable’ Gianluigi Buffon; at the age of 32 he is one of only two players in the squad to have reached 100 caps for Italy and shows no sign of stopping. The Juve stopper has a phenomenal record between the sticks for both club and country. During the 2006 World Cup finals, Buffon was in stunning form, conceding just two goals and keeping five clean sheets in addition to an incredible 453 minute scoreless streak. It was therefore no surprise that he was named in FIFA’s all star team for the tournament. His superb ability along with vast experience makes him a vital figure in the team.
The midfield is the backbone of the side, with high profile players such as: De Rossi, Pirlo, Camoranesi and Gattuso feeding the forward line. Without a doubt a highly controversial figure within the midfield is Gennaro Gattuso. The Milan central midfielder is renowned as one of footballs hard men and this is backed up by his poor disciplinary record. Also 32, Gattuso is one of the older members of the squad, but will be relied upon more for his mental attributes this summer. His AC Milan team mate Andrea Pirlo on the other hand is more of a flare player, providing pin-point crosses from wide areas and is deadly from set-pieces. His 24 goals at all international levels demonstrate his keen eye for goal.
In the attacking third, the Azzurri are well equipped for scoring goals and doing damage to the opponents back line. Manager Lippi faces a tough decision when selecting his final 23 to fly out to South Africa, as inevitably a high quality forward will be left at home. Any clues as to who this may be seem rare, making the two warm up games crucial to these players’ chances. Italy’s conventional strike force usually consists of either Vincenzo Iaquinta or Antonio Di Natale partnering danger man Gilardino. Likened to both Christain Vieri and Filippo Inzaghi, Gilardino has established himself as one of the world’s most emphatic strikers. The Fiorentina number 11 has a goal ratio of just under a goal every two games for club and country and played a key role in the world cup winning team of 2006, where he played in the first two matches; scoring a diving header against the USA, before coming on as a substitute in the semi final against Germany, hitting the post in extra time and providing the pass for Alessandro Del Piero’s stoppage-time goal that sealed the Azzurri’s 2-0 victory. Although he has been criticised recently for an apparent drop in form, Gilardino will be looking to silence the critics in the best way possible, by finding the net in South Africa.
Last and by no means least is captain marvel Fabio Cannavaro. The defensive rock has played in the last three world cup competitions and looks in great shape as he withholds his place at centre back for an amazing fourth. With 132 caps, Cannavaro is the most capped Italian national team player of all time. The veteran will prove to be a role model on and off the pitch for the younger members of the squad and the Italians will be hoping that his leadership and defensive attributes can inspire Italy to a fifth world cup crown in what is likely to be his last.
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