When it comes to winning the world cup, two teams can never be discredited, Italy and Brazil. However I have seen very little support for the Italians entering this world cup, perhaps it was their unbeaten qualification campaign which has led to doubts over their credentials. Or perhaps it is that the spine of the reigning World Champions remaining the same. Italy have experience throughout the team and have one of the best managers in the world at their helm. Why are they in some quarters being given odds of 16/1?
The biggest argument against Italy is their age. With 5 of their first 11 over thirty and their captain the far side of 36 it is thought that against more fluid opposition like the Dutch or Argentinians that the Italians could not stand a chance. Also, the centre of the Italians defense and Goalkeeper have all arrived in South Africa after terrible domestic seasons. Without a rock-solid defence the Italian style of football could not possible hope to succeed.
This argument is flawed in several areas, whilst the Juventus trio are coming off a bad season it was more the fault of poor management than a perceived dip in quality. Under Lippi; Buffon, Cannavaro and Cheillini could regain the form that made them World Champions in 2006.
Secondly, the perception that this is an aging Italian squad does not hold up to scrutiny, only 3 players are over the age of 33, one of which is a back-up goalkeeper. In midfield only one of the starting players is over 30, and because he is Pirlo he won’t have much mobility anyway.
The Italian side does not have the prestige of the Spanish coming into the tournament having “failed” in Euro 2008. Looking back on that tournament the Italians were only eliminated in a penalty shoot-out against the Spanish having held them to a goal-less draw (the only team to do so in that tournament).
This year the Italians shall have Chiellini and an in-form Di Natale who could provide goals for them. The Italian style of football is relying on being able to score one goal whilst not conceding. With one of the best Goalkeeper’s in the world and a solid defence Italy should be able to achieve the latter. However, goal-scoring shall be an entirely different matter.
This will be the first World Cup in 20 years where Italy will be without a “No 10” having left Totti and Del Piero behind, Di Natale has been given the number for this tournament but will probably not be playing in that withdrawn striker’s role. Instead Italy may well play the more conventional diamond with Di Natale playing as an out-and-out striker alongside Iaquinta or the sometimes spectacular, sometimes infuriating Quagliarella.
In the knock-out stages Italy will only need to score one goal and with two strikers and support from De Rossi in midfield that is likely to happen.
Finally, Italy have been graced with a fairly ‘easy’ group, having seen Paraguay fail to beat an Irish side emulating an Italian side and New Zealand not being considered a threat. Italy can be confident with qualifying from the group with their match against Slovakia determining the winner. Should they finish top they would face Denmark, Cameroon or Japan. For a side of Italy’s credentials a formulaic win over any of these teams would be expected.
If all goes as expected the quarter finals shall be the true test of the Italians. The winner of Group H (Spain) shall play the runner up of the group of death, meaning an Iberian derby could be on the cards. If Italy were to meet either team it will be the litmus test of their winning potential. A win over the European Champions would provide the confidence necessary to go on to the semi-finals and finals willing to take on anyone.
All this listed above is why I believe Italy will be the first team to win back-to-back world cups since 1962, after all it has to happen sometime.
(There is no way however that I am picking Italy as I got them in my office pool and want to justify my hopes. No way whatsoever.)