|Marco Materazzi||Defender||Inter Milan|
|Alessandro Nesta||Defender||Ac Milan|
|Daniele De Rossi||Midfielder||AS Roma|
|Gennaro Gattuso||Midfielder||AC Milan|
|Simone Perrotta||Midfielder||AS Roma|
|Andrea Pirlo||Midfielder||AC Milan|
|Alessandro Del Piero||Forward||Juventus|
|Alberto Gilardino||Forward||AC Milan|
|Filippo Inzaghi||Forward||AC Milan|
|Francesco Totti||Forward||AS Roma|
|Head Coach:||Marcello Lippi|
Style of play: Italian coach Marcello Lippi has used a classic 4-4-2 setup in the past, but is likely to go with a 4-3-1-2 formation in Germany. Italy's trademark defence is as impressive as ever with Alessandro Nesta and Fabio Cannavaro forming the best central defensive pairing in soccer. The two wide fullbacks, Gianluca Zambrotta and either Fabio Grosso or Massimo Oddo, are also solid defensively and routinely venture down the wings to give Italy's attack width. Three players line across the middle of the field - Gennaro Gattuso takes care of the grunt work while Mauro Camoranesi and Daniele De Rossi serve as the link between defence and the attack. Francesco Totti, provided he's healthy, acts as the team's chief playmaker - although he can go forward and score goals, as well - and will sit in the hole just behind the two strikers, Luca Toni and Alberto Gilardino. Toni is a tall frontman who is deadly with his back to goal and likes it when the ball is played up in the air, while Gilardino thrives with low passes on the ground that he can run onto so that he can use his speed. Lippi might also change things up and go with Toni up front alone supported by two forwards, Totti and either Gilardino and Alessandro Del Piero, playing just behind him.
Probable starting formation (4-3-1-2): (GK) Gianluigi Buffon - (D) Fabio Grosso, Alessandro Nesta, Fabio Cannavaro, Gianluca Zambrotta - (M) Mauro Camoranesi, Gennaro Gattuso, Daniele De Rossi - (M/F) Francesco Totti - (F) Alberto Gilardino, Luca Toni
Confidence - Italy has a quiet confidence about them, and they should. The Azzurri qualified with one game to spare - the last time they did that was in 1982 when they won the World Cup. Italy also comes into the tournament on the strength of a 16-game unbeaten streak, including an impressive 3-1 win over the Dutch and a 4-1 mauling of Germany in Florence this year.
Defence - As always, Italy's defence is strong. Juventus' Fabio Cannavaro and Alessandro Nesta of AC Milan form the best central defensive pairing in the world, while Gianluca Zambrotta and Fabio Grosso give Italy more attacking options down the wings. Bench players Christian Zaccardo, Massimo Oddo and Andrea Barzagli would be starters on any other national team.
Depth - The Italians have depth at every position. Aside from a defence overflowing with so many options, the Italians have plenty of quality players in attack, as they can call upon forwards the calibre of Luca Toni, Francesco Totti, Alberto Gilardino and Alessandro Del Piero. Gianluigi Buffon is the best goalkeeper in the world and is backed up by the experienced Angelo Peruzzi. The midfield is full of world-class talent, most notably Andrea Pirlo, Daniele de Rossi, and Gennaro Gattuso.
The scandal back home - The ongoing match-fixing scandal involving Juventus has caused quite a stir and could prove to be a major distraction for the Azzurri. Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and coach Marcello Lippi have been questioned by the investigation's chief authorities and the Italian media have suggested that both should resign for the national team. Although Lippi insists the scandal won't affect his team, you have to wonder whether or not the Italians will be able to concentrate in Germany.
Pressure - As one of the favourites, Italy has a lot of pressure to deal with. Millions of soccer-mad fans back in Italy - not to mention the constant scrutiny of the demanding Italian media - demand positive results. Anything less than winning the World Cup will be viewed as a disappointment. Its shocking second-round loss to South Korea in 2002, coupled with its anaemic showing at Euro 2004, means Italy will be playing under a constant, self-imposed pressure cooker in Germany.
Jinx factor - Italy has been eliminated in the past four World Cups in penalty shootouts (1990, 1994, 1998) or in extra time (2002). The shameful defeat at the hands of South Korea four years ago still haunts the team - as does its first-round exit at Euro 2004. If Italy can't win its games in regulation, it will be faced with the daunting task of having to go to overtime or, worse still, the dreaded shootout.
Players to watch:
Luca Toni - The most lethal striker in the world today. Toni scored 31 goals for Fiorentina this past season, shattering the club record held by legends Gabriel Batistuta and Kurt Hamrin and finished top scorer in Italy's Serie A. He also won the European golden boot as the top scorer on the continent. Not quick, but she's strong, crafty and possesses a natural goal-scorer's instinct.
Fabio Cannavaro - The backbone of the Italian defence. Italy's captain has loads of international experience (over 90 games) and the Juventus star is, without question, the best defender in the world. He's not tall, but Cannavaro makes up for it with speed, flawless tackling, sound defensive positioning and his astute reading of the game. The complete centre fullback.
Gianluca Zambrotta - Often overlooked, Zambrotta is, nonetheless, a key member of the Azzurri setup. His greatest asset is his versatility: he can play either left or right fullback, and can slot in on either side of midfield. Uses his speed to make deep runs down the flanks and is renowned for delivering dangerous crosses into the box. A talented defender and a real workhorse.
Key injuries/omissions: Playmaker Francesco Totti recently returned to action after a four-month layoff (he broke his ankle in February) and although he is expected to start for Italy, the speculation is that he is not 100 per cent fit. Injuries to striker Christian Vieri (left knee) and midfielder Aimo Diana (groin) ruled them out of the team. Their absence paved the way for striker Filippo Inzaghi (who hasn't played for the national team since 2003) and defender Massimo Oddo to earn a spot on the roster. Coach Marcello Lippi overlooked youngster Antonio Cassano (he saw little action this past season for Real Madrid) and Cristiano Lucarelli, last season's top scorer in Serie A. Lippi has been criticized for selecting Vincenzo Iaquinta, who has had a disappointing season, instead of Lucarelli, and for picking defender Marco Materazzi, who most critics see as a liability for his propensity for earning yellow cards and frequently being caught out of position. Youngster Marco Amelia was preferred to the more experienced Morgan De Sanctis as Italy's third-string goalkeeper. Key defender Gianluca Zambrotta injured his left thigh in a recent training game. Other talented players that did not make the final roster were defender Manuel Pasqual, midfielders Stefano Fiore and Marco Marchionni, and striker Francesco Tavano.
Prognosis: The fact the Italians were handed a tough group (Czech Republic, Ghana and the United States) is a blessing in disguise. A trio of dangerous opponents is the proper tonic for the Italians, traditional slow starters at the World Cup, giving them plenty of motivation to start the tournament off on the right foot. The Italians also have added incentive to win the group: the second-place team in Group E will likely face Brazil in the second round. One of the tournament favourites, Italy has the depth, talent, skill and class to win the World Cup. Whether they go far in the tournament or crash out in the second round like they did four years ago will depend on coach Marcello Lippi. Under Lippi's guidance, Italy has ditched its defence-first approach and adopted an attacking philosophy, one that the coach maintains his team will stick to in the World Cup. However, previous Italian managers have made similar claims, only to revert to a more defensive approach at the first sight of trouble. If Italy can stick to its attacking guns in Germany, there's no reason why it can't win Group D and advance to the semifinals - and possibly win its fourth World Cup.
Road to the World Cup
Current FIFA Ranking: #13
1st round matches:
June 12 vs. Ghana in Hanover
June 17 vs. United States in Kaiserslautern
June 22 vs. Czech Republic in Hamburg
2006 qualification route: Finished first in Europe's Group 5 (23 points)
ahead of Norway (18 points).
Qualifying record: 10 games played, 7 wins, 2 draws, 1 loss
Goals for: 17 Goals against: 8
Top goal-scorer in qualifying: Luca Toni (4)
Qualifying results: (home team listed first)
Sept. 4, 2004 - Italy 2, Norway 1
Sept. 8, 2004 - Moldova 0, Italy 1
Oct. 9, 2004 - Slovenia 1, Italy 0
Oct. 13, 2004 - Italy 4, Belarus 3
March 26, 2005 - Italy 2, Scotland 0
June 4, 2005 - Norway 0, Italy 0
Sept. 3, 2005 - Scotland 1, Italy 1
Sept 7, 2005 - Belarus 1, Italy 4
Oct. 8, 2005 - Italy 1, Slovenia 0
Oct. 12, 2005 - Italy 2, Moldova
World Cup History
FIFA member since: 1905
Team nickname: Azzurri (the blues)
All-time caps leaders: Paolo Maldini (126)
All-time leading scorer: Gigi Riva (35 goals)
Number of Previous World Cup Appearances: 15
All-time record: 70 games played, 39 wins, 17 draws, 14 losses
Goals for: 110 Goals against: 67
World Cup History
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
Biggest victory: 7-1 vs. United States in 1934
Biggest defeat: 4-1 vs. Switzerland in 1954 and 4-1 vs. Brazil in 1970
Overall top scorer: Paolo Rossi, Roberto Baggi and Christian Vieri (9 goals)
Most appearances: Paolo Maldini (23 matches)
Hosted the World Cup: 1934 and 1990
European Champions: 1968
Under-21 European Champions: 1992, 1994, 1996, 2000, 2004
Under-19 European Champions: 1958, 2003
Under-17 European Champions: 1982, 1987
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 to ever 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 its way to capturing its third World Cup title. Voted European player of the year in 1982.