Lifestyle & Belief

Italy World Cup team aims to defend its reign as champions


Italy World Cup Team Statistics: Group F

Status: Knocked out round 2

World Ranking: 5

World Cup 2010 Results: 0-1-2

Total goals scored: 4

Total goals scored against: 5

Italy World Cup Schedule: June 14 - Paraguay (1-1 draw); June 20 - New Zealand (1-1 draw); June 24 - Slovakia (2-3 loss)

Italy World Cup Soccer 2010

The 2006 World Cup championship was supposed to be about healing, coming as it did in the wake of a devastating match-fixing scandal at the highest levels of Serie A. But the fix — the good fix that is — didn’t exactly take. The scandal has been resurrected with new tentacles and it only confirms the cynicism that Italians have about virtually everything in their society, now including soccer.

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Once upon a time, Italy’s national soccer team transcended the grittier realities of Italian life, serving as a symbol of national unity. But back in 1993, now four-time Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi appropriated the national soccer cheer — “Forza Italia” or “Go Italy” — for his right-wing political party.

The tangle of Italian life, politics and soccer was hard to miss and easy to scorn. The defensive style of the Azzurri is a perfect reflection of that mix. It is never about playing the beautiful game or even an attractive game. It is not necessarily about pleasing fans. It is all about getting a result — and the cautious Italians remain masterful at that.

Italy World Cup History: Defending champion and four-time Cup winner, Italy is always a contender. It has survived the first round at every World Cup since 1974.

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Italy World Cup Conventional Wisdom: Italy brings back much of its ’06 championship team. That makes it a favorite, right? No, that makes it old. Italian fans would like to see a little more of a youth movement to reinvigorate the team. They were not impressed during qualification — but then again, they never are. And, despite some lackluster performances, the team did not lose a single game.

Italy World Cup Team Coach: Marcello Lippi

Lippi, winner in 2006, took over again in 2008. He brooks no criticism from inside and tolerates no destructive individualism. The team is family and he is the papa who rules with absolute authority. He returns the loyalty, favoring players who delivered for him in the past. He values the ability to execute his game plan without error over youthful vigor.

Italy World Cup Team Strength: The Italians are masters of the catenaccio — the bolt — the defensive lockdown that proved almost impenetrable four years ago when they surrendered two goals in the entire 2006 tournament. The aging defenders may be a little slower afoot, but they are impeccable in their positioning and seldom make a mistake in judgment. And when they do falter, a great goalkeeper, Gigi Buffon, is there to backstop them.

Italy World Cup Team Weakness: The oldest strikers — Alessandro Del Piero, Luca Toni, Francesco Totti — have been left off the team, which doesn’t answer the question of where the scoring will come from. Italy loves to play up 1-0, but that first goal may come a little harder now.

Italy World Cup Key Player: Antonio di Natale

Di Nitale survived the purge of aging strikers. At 32, he enjoyed his finest Serie A season, scoring 28 goals. And with speed, mobility, great skills on the ball and precision with both feet, he may be best equipped to produce that coveted first goal. If veterans can’t deliver, one youth in the spotlight may be Giuseppe Rossi, the 23-year-old who was born and raised in New Jersey. Every time Rossi steps on the field, the Italian attack appears enlivened.