With the World Cup in Brazil just weeks away, Italy coach Cesare Prandelli has some extremely difficult decisions on his hands. Italy is considered by many to be a dark horse, but some (self-included) even consider them to be a serious threat to win. The Azzurri face a demanding group that features England, Uruguay and Costa Rica, and there is a possibility that Italy may fail to get out of the group stage for the second straight World Cup. Here is who Prandelli should take with him on the plane to South America.
Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon, Salvatore Sirigu & Mattia Perin or Simone Scuffet
Buffon’s a lock to put it simply. A freak injury is the only thing keeping the Juventus and Azzurri captain from going to the Finals in Brazil. After him, Sirigu is the clear-cut number two. Should history repeat itself and Buffon goes down with an injury in the first round, Sirigu provides a more than capable back-up. The third ‘keeper spot is a little harder to pick. Federico Marchetti was the obvious pick some months ago, but a dip in form by the Lazio keeper has seen two of Italy’s finest youngsters, Perin and Scuffet, rise into consideration. Either one would be a smart choice in terms of gaining the experience of going to a World Cup. Should this scenario play out, it would come down to who Prandelli wants to give that experience.
Defenders: Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, Mattia De Sciglio, Ignazio Abate, Gabriel Paletta…
The back end of Italy’s potential roster is riddled with injuries. Center back is not an issue thanks to the Juve trio of Barzagli, Bonucci, and Chiellini as well as Gabriel Paletta (who impressed against Spain in his first cap). On the other hand, outside back is the area of defense where Italy could use more depth. Milan pairing De Sciglio and Abate are both good bets to make the team and potentially start, but after that question marks remain. If healthy, Christian Maggio and Federico Balzaretti might make this team. However neither are 100 percent. Maggio seems to be closer to a recovery this season and should make the team if he is fit thanks to his ability to play on the right in defense or in midfield. Lorenzo De Silvestri has been solid with Sampdoria this year, but has only two caps to his name. Continued good showings from him could get him on the plane to Brazil. Other names to watch are Inter’s Andrea Ranocchia, Cagliari’s Davide Astori and Zenit’s Domenico Criscito.
Midfielders: Andrea Pirlo, Riccardo Montolivo, Daniele De Rossi, Antonio Candreva, Claudio Marchisio, Marco Verratti, Thiago Motta and Emmanuelle Giaccherini.
The Azzurri are strong at the back, but their true strength is in the midfield. Midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo is at the center of everything the team does. Prandelli surrounds him with a grouping of players that blends technique, strength and skill. Italy can opt to play Pirlo with two astute defensive midfield players to save him on defense like De Rossi and Motta. The team can also be a possession oriented group with Pirlo, Verratti and one of Marchisio, De Rossi, Motta or Marchisio. Candreva and Giaccherini are more wide types, but they give Prandelli the option to be flexible with his tactics.
Forwards: Mario Balotelli, Alessio Cerci, Antonio Cassano, Giuseppe Rossi…
The team’s forwards, like its defenders, are another part of the team where injuries and uncertainty are factors. Balotelli, similar to Buffon is a shoe-in, provided he is healthy. Cerci put in a good showing against Spain recently and his fine form at Torino certainly doesn’t hurt his chances. Those are the only two that are certainties. Cassano would be an ideal fit seeing as the bulk of Italy’s creative play comes from the midfield. He would give the team a dangerous presence in the final third that can score and create. However, Prandelli hasn’t called him up since Euro 2012. Cassano’s form at Parma has been superb – if he keeps it up, he’ll be in Brazil. Rossi is another injury concern. If he’s healthy he’ll be in the squad. But a recent injury has raised questions about whether the New Jersey native will be able to compete on football’s biggest stage. Regardless, Prandelli says that they’ll wait for Rossi to be healthy. I’ll say it again, if he’s healthy, he’s going, and he’ll be very dangerous alongside Balotelli. Whether or not Rossi goes, Italy will still likely carry another attacker. Who that will be remains to be seen. A case could be made for any one of a group that includes Stephan El Shaarawy, Alberto Gilardino, Daniel Osvaldo, Lorenzo Insigne, Ciro Immobile and Manolo Gabbiadini, among others.
Regardless of who Prandelli chooses, Italy will be a force to be reckoned with.
Who do you think should make Italy’s World Cup roster?