Team Profile: Italy
- Coach: Marcello Lippi
- Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Morgan De Sanctis (Napoli), Federico Marchetti (Cagliari)
- Defenders: Salvatore Bocchetti (Genoa), Leonardo Bonucci (Bari), Fabio Cannavaro (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Domenico Criscito (Genoa), Christian Maggio (Napoli), Gianluca Zambrotta (AC Milan)
- Midfielders: Mauro Camoranesi (Juventus), Daniele De Rossi (AS Roma), Gennaro Gattuso (AC Milan), Claudio Marchisio (Juventus), Riccardo Montolivo (Fiorentina), Angelo Palombo (Sampdoria), Simone Pepe (Udinese), Andrea Pirlo (AC Milan)
- Forwards: Antonio Di Natale (Udinese), Alberto Gilardino (Fiorentina), Vincenzo Iaquinta (Juventus), Giampaolo Pazzini (Sampdoria), Fabio Quagliarella (Napoli)
Style of play: Coach Marcello Lippi is nothing if not flexible in his tactics and formations. Initially, look for him to use a 4-2-3-1 setup, with central midfielders Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi lining up in front of the defence, acting as the both the defensive filter and the conductors of the attack. Three midfielders line up in front of them, who support the lone striker, either Alberto Gilardino or Vincenzo Iaquinta. Lippi could also go with a 4-3-1-2, with Pirlo moving up from his deep position to play in the hole just behind the two strikers. Or he could go with a 4-3-3, with Iaquinta serving at the target man with wingers on either side of him.
1st round matches:
- June 14 vs. Paraguay in Cape Town
- June 20 vs. New Zealand in Nelspruit
- June 24 vs. Slovakia in Johannesburg
Projected starting lineup (4-2-3-1): (GK) Gianluigi Buffon - (D) Gianluca Zambrotta, Fabio Cannavaro, Giorgio Chiellini, Domenico Criscito - (M) Daniele De Rossi, Andrea Pirlo, Mauro Camoranesi, Giuseppe Rossi, Simone Pepe - (F) Alberto Gilardino
- Experience and history: Lippi has recalled several of the key veterans that helped him win the World Cup four years ago. Italy has won the tournament four times, second only to Brazil with five, and has played in three of the last seven World Cup finals, winning twice. Winning is second nature to Italy.
- Coaching: Marcello Lippi is an accomplished tactician and a fantastic motivator who inspires his players to greatness, as evidenced by Italy's World Cup victory four years ago. The Italian is one of the best coaches of his era.
- Team Resolve: The Italians have shown that when the pressure is on and the critics rule them out, they are always able to rise to the occasion. The Azzurri are masters of winning ugly and proper tournament management - pacing themselves through the early stages before peaking late in the competition.
- Not enough youth: Lippi has relied too much on the veterans of the 2006 team (nine in total) at the expense of calling up talented Italian youngsters such as Sebastien Giovinco, Antonio Candreva and Giuseppe Rossi. Experience is good, but you also need some young legs.
- The Bull's-Eye Factor: As the defending champions, Italy enters the tournament with a big bull's-eyes on their back, as every team will be looking to knock them off and give a little extra in games against the Italians. Plus, Brazil was the last team to repeat as World Cup champions, in 1962.
- Questionable fire power: Italy doesn't possess a world-class striker in the mould of Wayne Rooney or Diego Milito. Veterans Alberto Gilardino and Vincenzo Iaquinta are ta lented but far from spectacular.
Players to watch:
- Gianluigi Buffon - Simply put, Buffon is one of the best goalkeepers - if not the best - in the world today. The Juventus star makes highlight-reel saves, efficiently organizes his defenders and is rarely caught out of position.
- Daniele De Rossi- The AS Roma star is a brilliant two-way player, combining physical strength with sublime passing skills and a delicate touch on the ball.
- Andrea Pirlo - The AC Milan midfielder anticipates the run of play and moves the ball to areas where players should be; perpetually looking for any size of open space that can offer a teammate a chance to attack.
Key injuries/squad omissions: Defender Fabio Grosso, who converted the decisive penalty kick in Italy's World Cup victory four years ago, was cut from the Azzurri's preliminary squad for South Africa. Other players who were axed by coach Marcello Lippi were midfielder Antonio Candreva, forward Marco Boriello, goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu and defender Mattia Cassani. Lippi did not invite forwards Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano because of their past disciplinary and attitude problems with their pro clubs. There was talk that Lippi was going to recall Francesco Totti, who retired from the national team in 2006, but in the end, the Italian coach decided against it. Lippi also excluded forwards Alessandro Del Piero and Luca Toni, two members of the 2006 team, and defender Nicola Legrottaglie. In a bit of a surprise Giuseppe Rossi, Italy's best player at last year's Confederations Cup, did not make the roster. Midfielder Mauro Camoranesi made the squad despite injuring his left knee during a recent training session.
Prognosis: Second round or quarter-finals. It would be foolish to write off the reigning world champions, like so many critics are, because the Italians have proved in the past that they are masters of grinding out results and winning it all when little is expected of them. Still, a repeat for the Azzurri isn't in the cards. They're good enough to make it to the second round - and maybe even the quarter-finals - but this is a tired team loaded with too many veterans that are past their due date.
ROAD TO SOUTH AFRICA
- Current FIFA ranking: #5
- Qualification route: Italy finished in first place (24 points) in Europe's Group 8, ahead of Ireland (18 points).
- Key to qualification: Maintaining focus. A late goal allowed Ireland to earn a 1-1 tie on April 1 and put pressure on the Italians. But the world champions put their heads down the rest of the way and ground out the results they needed to win the group.
- Crucial result: A 2-0 win over Bulgaria (Sept. 9 in Turin) gave Italy a four-point lead over Ireland with two games to go and virtually assured the world champions of first place.
- Qualifying record: 10 games played, 7 wins, 3 draws, 0 losses
- Goals for: 18
- Goals against: 7
- Top goal-scorer in qualifying: Alberto Gilardino (4)
Qualifying results: (home team listed first)
- Sept. 6, 2008 - Cyprus 1, Italy 2
- Sept. 10, 2008 - Italy 2, Georgia 0
- Oct. 11, 2008 - Bulgaria 0, Italy 0
- Oct. 15, 2008 - Italy 2, Montenegro 1
- March 28, 2009 - Montenegro 0, Italy 2
- April 1, 2009 - Italy 1, Ireland 1
- Sept. 5, 2009 - Georgia 0, Italy 2
- Sept. 9, 2009 - Italy 2, Bulgaria 0
- Oct. 10, 2009 - Ireland 2, Italy 2
- Oct. 14, 2009 - Italy 3, Cyprus 2
- Number of World Cup appearances: 16
- All-time record: 77 games played, 44 wins, 19 draws, 14 losses
- Goals for: 122
- Goals against: 69
- Biggest victory: 7-1 vs. United States in 1934
- Biggest defeat: 4-1 vs. Switzerland in 1954 and 4-1 vs. Brazil in 1970
- Top scorer: Paolo Rossi, Roberto Baggio and Christian Vieri (9 goals)
- Most appearances: Paolo Maldini (23 matches)
- Hosted the World Cup: 1934 and 1990
World Cup track record
- 1930 - Did not enter
- 1934 - CHAMPIONS
- 1938 - CHAMPIONS
- 1950 - First Round
- 1954 - First Round
- 1958 - Did not qualify
- 1962 - First Round
- 1966 - First Round
- 1970 - Runners-up
- 1974 - First Round
- 1978 - Semifinals (4th place)
- 1982 - CHAMPIONS
- 1986 - Second Round
- 1990 - Semifinals (3rd Place)
- 1994 - Runners-up
- 1998 - Quarter-finals
- 2002 - Second Round
- 2006 - CHAMPIONS
- FIFA member since: 1905
- Team nickname: Azzurri
- All-time caps leaders: Fabio Cannavaro (132)
- All-time leading scorer: Luigi Riva (35 goals)
- European Champions: 1968
- Under-21 European Champions: 1992, 1994, 1996, 2000, 2004
- Under-19 European Champions: 1958, 2003
- Under-17 European Champions: 1982
- Olympic Gold Medal: 1936
- Olympic Bronze Medal: 1928, 2004
- Dino Zoff: One of the best goalkeepers the world has ever known. Zoff was a key member of Italy's 1982 World Cup winning team. He earned 112 caps for Italy during his career, making him one of the most revered Italian sports figures in history. At 40 years of age, he is the oldest player ever to win the World Cup.
- Paolo Rossi: The hero of the 1982 World Cup in Spain, Rossi was the top goal scorer in the tournament with six goals. His hat trick against Brazil in the quarter-finals sent the Azzurri on the way to capturing a third World Cup title. Voted European player of the year in 1982.