Depending champions Italy have announced their provisional 30 man squad for the world cup finals this summer. Manager Marcello Lippi though has not held back in rejecting big named players for the flight to South Africa including talisman Luca Toni. Only a scattering of players remain in the squad from the glory days of 2006, with the likes of Cannavaro, Grosso, Buffon and Gilardino still in the running to make the cut. The squad is heavily populated with Italian based players, but for some of them, it will be so near yet so far.
We shall start in goal where the first name on the list is of no surprise whatsoever, Gianluigi Buffon. he is one of two players in the squad to have reached 100 caps for Italy and he shows no sign of stopping at the age of 32. Also in the provisional squad is 27 year old Cagliari stopper Federico Marchetti. He has four international caps for the Azzurri and is also almost certain to travel South Africa as chief understudy to Buffon.
With two goalkeepers left in the provisional squad and only one spot left, either Morgan de Sanctis or Salvatore Sirigu is going to be disappointed. De Sanctis has had a strong debut season with Napoli, playing in all 38 league games and has international experience with 3 caps, but Sirigu is the young, hungry pretender. He started the season at Palermo as back-up, but since making his debut in September has not looked back with a string of outstanding performances in the Palermo first team.
In defence the Italians have their all time most capped player in Fabio Cannavaro and the only ever defender to win the FIFA World Player of the Year award. At the grand old age of 36, Cannavaro has formed a strong partnership with fellow Juventus centre-back Giorgio Chiellini who also makes the provisional squad.
At right-back Italy can still call on the reliable services of Gianluca Zambrotta who has the added ability of being able to play on either side of defence. Nonetheless he remains Italy’s number one right-back.
With Fabio Grosso’s suprise omission from the provisional squad it puts the left back spot beyond doubt with no real challengers to Domenico Criscito. Criscito make a brave choice in joining lesser side Genoa in a bid to gain regular first team Football and it seems his decision has impressed manager Lippi.
Bari centre-back Leonardo Bonucci can also be confident of making the final cut for South Africa after establishing himslef as a regualr in what has proved to be the second best defence in Serie A this season. Although he has just one cap for Italy, Bonucci has had a fantastic season and is fully deserving of adding to his caps tally this summer. The fourth and final centre-back to make the provisional line up squad is 23-year-old Genoa defender Salvatore Bocchetti.
With one defensive space left to be fought over between 2 right backs it will come ultimately down to who is more versatile and this could play strongly into the hands of Mattia Cassani who is more than capable of playing left or right back whereas his rival, Christian Maggio who seems only adequate on the right flank. When it comes to experience, Maggio has the upper hand, but this may count for little in the final run in.
Probable Defenders: Fabio Cannavaro (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Gianluca Zambrotta (AC Milan), Domenico Criscito (Genoa), Leonardo Bonucci (Bari), Salvatore Bocchetti (Genoa), Mattia Cassani (Palermo)
In the midfield, the reigning champions can always rely on their talismanic playmaker Andrea Pirlo who has changed from playing very deep in midfield for the national side to being pushed forward behind the strike force, this could suit the Italians attacking play style.
Behind him Italy have the fearless Daniele De Rossi who has unfinished business in the World Cup after leaving Germany four years ago in disgrace after a vicious elbow on the USA’s Brian McBride. He wears his heart on his sleeve and is a real warrior on the pitch, as shown in his poor discipline record.
The right is home to just one man – Juve winger Mauro Camoranesi, the Italians will be thankful he made the choice of them over the Argetinians to play his internation Football. The creative Simone Pepe of Juventus will go to the World Cup as adequate cover for Camoranesi.
One player making a late push for a spot in the 23 man squad is Cagliari midfielder Andrea Cossu. Whilst he has fought valiantly to get into the provisional squad thus far he is unlikely to prise the role of Camoranesi back-up away from Pepe and may well be watching this summer’s games at home in Italy.
Hardman Gennaro Gattuso can also be assured of his spot on the plane this summer, more for his mental attributes than his technical ones. This World Cup is likely to be Gattuso’s last at a major tournament so he will want to go out with a bang.
Loyal Juventus midfielder Claudio Marchisio will also be part of the travelling party. The creative winger will be integral this summer because he can be relied upon as quality back-up in any position across the Italy midfield, making him a prized asset.
Joining Marchisio in South Africa is likely to be Fiorentina captain Riccardo Montolivo. The playmaker has 12 international caps and can operate in defensive midfield, central midfield or just behind the two front men as an attacking outlet.
Last, but by no means least in the midfield is Sampdoria’s Angelo Palombo. Palombo defines the word tenacious and is seen by many as Gattuso’s natural understudy as Italy’s chief ankle biter.
Proabable Midfielders: Pirlo (AC Milan), Daniele De Rossi (Roma), Mauro Camoranesi (Juventus), Simone Pepe (Udinese), Gennaro Gattuso (AC Milan), Claudio Marchisio (Juventus), Riccardo Montolivo (Fiorentina), Angelo Palombo (Sampdoria).
In attack Italy boast the prolific target man Alberto Gilardino. Gilardino scored the goal that confirmed Italy’s qualification to this summer’s World Cup when he netted against Ireland in October. He currently has 16 goals in his 39 caps at senior level.
His partner up front for is the strong Vincenzo Iaquinta whose goalscoring record at club and international level is poor. His ability to bring others into play with flick ons and deft touches is invaluable however, and at 6ft 3″ he also poses a distinct aerial threat. Antonio Di Natale may be classed as a striker but will be mainly used on the left hand side of the attack.
The final two attacking spots are to be fought over by four different strikers, all of similar ability. Firstly, Fabio Quagliarella, who can score from pretty much anywhere on the pitch thanks to his incredible shooting technique and eye for goal.
Fighting with him is the only player in the provisional squad not to play in Italy, Giuseppe Rossi, representing Villarreal. A former Manchester United youth product, Rossi possesses pace in abundance and good technical attributes.
The third competitor for a striker’s slot in South Africa is Giampaolo Pazzini, who ironicly scored the first ever competitive goal at the new Wembley Stadium. A deadly finisher, Pazzini has 30 goals in 1 and a half seasons for current club Sampdoria and has found the net once for his country in his 6 appearances.
The final man vying for a spot in Lippi’s squad is Milan target man Marco Borriello. The tall, powerful striker could prove a handful for any defence. Borriello is the least experienced at international level of the four with just four caps and no goals. Lippi though appears unlikely to take a chance on the Milan man.
Probable Attackers: Alberto Gilardino (Fiorentina), Vincenzo Iaquinta (Juventus), Antonio Di Natale (Udinese), Giuseppe Rossi (Villarreal), Giampaolo Pazzini (Sampdoria)
Speculation continues to grow as to whether this may be Lippi’s last tournament as Italy boss, but one thing is for certain, he will want to keep the world cup in Italy and has chosen a squad that he feels is good enough to do so.
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