To fans of Calcio it’s still as vivid as ever: The vision of Fabio Cannavaro lifting the World Cup aloft remains the proudest of Italian memories in a difficult recent history. But with one year to go before the 19th World Cup Final, Cannavaro and his Azzurri have a lot of hard work to do if the national team are to avoid an embarrassing fate in their defence of the trophy.
A shameful defeat to Egypt and a straightforward thumping by Brazil in the recent Confederations Cup have highlighted Italy’s fall from grace since that golden night in Berlin. Their attempts to evolve into a younger, fresher, more future-friendly outfit have been tempered by a sense of loyalty to the experienced campaigners who tasted glory three years ago.
So with 365 days left in Italy’s fourth reign at football’s summit, just how much catching up does Marcello Lippi’s squad have to do in order to launch a serious challenge for number five? How do the 23 involved in the Confederations Cup match up to the medal winners before them?
What was most stark about Gigi Buffon’s recent claim that Julio Cesar is the best No.1 in Serie A was its widespread acceptance. In 2006 Buffon was the best goalkeeper in the world marshaling one of the world’s best defences. These days he’s suffering from playing behind a weaker back fours at both club and international levels. He’s still clearly the best Italy has to offer – and arguably remains in the world’s top 5 – but he now has flaws that weren’t as evident in ’06.
Behind him Marco Amelia has improved immensely, though he is still prone to errors (see New Zealand) but Massimo De Sanctis seems likely to be usurped by Federico Marchetti or even Andrea Consigli before next June rolls around.
Buffon ’06 > ’09
Amelia ’09 > ’06
Peruzzi ’06 > De Sanctis ’09
Lippi’s biggest headache. Only three of the eight World Champion back line remain in the squad. All three are first-choice and all three are facing questions over their form. Skipper Cannavaro is no longer – and will never again be – the Berlin Wall. His two title-winning years at Real Madrid were laregly impressive, but his error-strewn final year in Spain came as a surprise to few. Fellow golden boys Gianluca Zambrotta and Fabio Grosso both struggled after post-World Cup moves and have been unconvincing since their subsequent transfers to Milan and Lyon respectively.