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Sunday, April 4, 2010

Why Italy Will Not Repeat in 2010 by Jim Riggio

by Jim Riggio for World Football Commentaries

Italy national team training session

Marcello Lippi wants to make history. The only other
manager to win two World Cups was Vittorio Pozzo
in 1934 and 1938. Pozzo also won Olympic Gold for
Italy in 1936.

With just a little more than two months before the first whistle blows to the start of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, if there is one thing appears certain, it is that we will have new world champions come July 11.

Current champion Italy, a four-time winner of the event, is looking its worst in years. Thus, there is little hope of a chance of a repeat. No team has repeated since Brazil won in 1958 and 1962.

Zito Celebrates

Brazil was the last team to repeat in 1962.

One Team Nucleus

Last fall, things were looking much better for the Azzurri. It appeared that Juventus bought into the idea of putting together a nucleus from which Italy coach Marcello Lippi would build his team around.

While this may seem like a crazy thing to do, it isn’t the first time Italy has tried this format. It nearly worked to perfection in 1994 when then-coach Arrigo Sacchi went primarily with players from AC Milan and Parma, the two clubs he had coached, and came up short just on penalty kicks in the final at the Rose Bowl to Brazil.

Lippi has also experimented with the idea of not bringing Italy’s best players, but rather the players he feels best with. That explains why players such as Antonio Cassano, Fabrizio Miccoli and Massimo Ambrosini aren’t even being considered for spots in South Africa.

But since unofficially launching this plan in the fall when Lippi began to call a large number of Juventus players into the national side, things have changed. Many star players from Juventus and other top clubs have faced injury problems.

Fall of Juventus

Sports News - March 11, 2010

Juve's misery raises red flags for the Azzurri.

Juventus has had a very difficult season, one that has seen the firing of Ciro Ferrara as coach. The appointment of Alberto Zaccheroni, who had relatively fallen off the radar as a top Italian coach. He was selected to replace Ferrara because all of the other top coaches had already found employment.

Juve’s defense was supposed to be the core for Lippi with young Giorgio Chiellini, returning World Champions Fabio Cannavaro and Fabio Grosso, who are no longer reliable and Nicola LeGrottaglie, another veteran who at times has been shaky.

Injuries to the Old Guard

The Bianconeri defense has not recorded a shutout in 18 straight Serie A matches. Goalkeeping sensation Gianluigi Buffon, who has also battled injuries, has played in just eight of the 18 matches during the run. But it is still no excuse for a club is generally considered one of the best in the world.

Two other Juventus players believed to be on Lippi’s pre-selected list were midfielder Mauro Camoranesi and forward Vincenzo Iaquinta, both of whom have missed most of the season due to injury.

AC Milan defender Gianluca Zambrotta, a longtime Juventus player and also believed to be a favorite of Lippi, has also faced lots of time on the sidelines. Aside from Buffon, just a handful of field players should be considered locks for spots in the final roster for South Africa.

Midfielders Andrea Pirlo (AC Milan) and Daniele De Rossi (AS Roma) are certainly deserving of a spot. But even they have played many matches this season since they are heavily relied on by their respective clubs. It will be interesting to see how much they have left in their legs in South Africa.

Forwards Antonio Di Natale (Udinese) and Alberto Gilardino (Fiorentina) are the only others that would appear to be locks. It is also hard to predict for success for Italy when its top two field players at any position – forward Francesco Totti and defender Alessandro Nesta – are hurt and retired from the national team.

Return of Totti?

Sports News - March 27, 2010

Will Lippi ask him to return?

Totti, who has been sidelined more than Nesta this season, has said he would accept a return if Lippi wants him. Nesta, who has re-established himself as one the world’s best defenders, has reportedly rejected the possibility of a return even though many have supported this idea. The AS Roma captain returned this past week from injury and if he can remain healthy, there is a strong chance he will go to South Africa. Nesta is expected to return from injury in early May, which allows him to have a few matches under his belt should he decide to make a return and opt for a fourth trip to the World Cup, the first three ending early due to injuries

Weak World Cup Draw

If Italy has anything going its way, it would be a relatively weak draw in Group F with Paraguay, Slovakia and New Zealand. But past history has shown that Italy plays poorly against competition that is inferior, as the general Italian mentality has been to give 100 percent only when necessary. That would mean that Italy probably won’t be clicking on all cylinders in the group stage. If it can pass a second-round date with either Cameroon or Denmark, it would more-than-likely run into Spain in the quarterfinals and see the end of its 2010 run.

About the Author

Jim Riggio has written about Italian and international soccer for ESPN/Soccernet, and was an interviewee for my column at AC Cugini Scuola Calcio. After the 2006 World Cup, he contributed an interview with Gianluca Zambrotta of FC Barcelona and the Italian National team for my World Football site.

On 21 February 2008, Mr. Riggio was interviewed by Diane Scalia, also known as Chef Di, for the SportsBites segment about the Champions League on GrandSlamGourmet.com.

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