After the 2010 South African World Cup sham, Italy arrives at the World Cup as the Euro 2012 runners-up and one of the most talented teams in the tournament. The Azzurri will play into the group D, together with England, Costa Rica and Uruguay.
On the eve of the first game against England, Italians have been debating a lot over Cesare Prandelli’s choices. Prandelli himself declared during the preparation period that he focused his 23-man squad choices more on player form rather than experience.
That explains the calling of Torino defender Matteo Darmian, who made his national debut recently against the Republic of Ireland in the friendly at Craven Cottage.
Taking for granted that Prandelli will play with four defenders, let’s try to get into the coach’s mind and predict who could be his choices during the World Cup.
Gianluigi Buffon would have been goalkeeper, but reports in Italy say that he twisted his ankle on a dodgy pitch in Brazil so PSG goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu is likely to get the start with Mattia Perin as back-up.
In defense, Giorgio Chiellini can play both left back or central defender, but it is more likely that we will see him in the middle.
Matteo Darmian and Mattia De Sciglio can play both left and right back.
Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Gabriel Paletta are the designated central defenders. They will fight for two places if Chiellini will be chosen as left back.
Ignazio Abate can play right back.
SEE MORE — Everything you need to know about the World Cup.
The midfield is probably one of the best of the entire competition and Prandelli has many options in the middle of the pitch. Surely everything will pass through Andrea Pirlo, who will receive the ball from defense and will create the attacks.
Prandelli has filled the team with central midfielders, apart from Antonio Candreva, the only winger.
No matter the system, Claudio Marchisio and Daniele De Rossi will always be in the starting eleven, as well as Andrea Pirlo.
In a 4-3-1-2 system, the Azzurri coach has always used Riccardo Montolivo behind the two strikers. With Montolivo out, Marchisio should substitute him.
Prandelli can also use midfielders as supporting strikers. For example, Marchisio and Candreva will support Mario Balotelli in case of a 4-3-3, which will be rather more similar to a 4-5-1. In this case, take for granted that Marco Verratti will be in the starting eleven.
Alberto Aquilani and Thiago Motta are luxurious depth players. Aquilani is in the roster mainly because of Montolivo’s injury, but he is still between the most quality passers in Serie A, where he has played two quality seasons in the core of Fiorentina midfield.
Thiago Motta needs no introduction as he won the Ligue 1 with PSG. He is criticized by fans because he is not the fastest player, which is true. But he has an amazing technique and is tactically very smart.
Marco Parolo has played an outstanding season with Parma. He is a very dynamic midfielder — sort of Marchisio’s alter-ego, and ready to replace him when needed.
Mario Balotelli is Italy’s main striker. That’s the only guarantee for Prandelli up front.
Don’t expect to see Italy play with three strikers from the very beginning despite the presence of Alessio Cerci and Lorenzo Insigne, who are the only two attacking wingers in the list. Alessio Cerci can also play close to Balotelli (or behind him) if the coach chooses to play two pure strikers from the beginning.
Ciro Immobile is the Serie A’s top scorer and has just signed a new deal with Borussia Dortmund. He is the reserve central forward.
Antonio Cassano can be involved if Italy struggles to score. The former Real Madrid forward can always find the right play to hurt the Azzurri rivals.
SEE MORE — Read our Italy World Cup Preview.