Italy: World Cup 2014 Team Preview
Best Ever Finish: Winners (1934, 1938, 1982, 2006)
Manager: Cesare Prandelli
Captain: Gianluigi Buffon
The 2006 winners came through the qualifiers undefeated, topping a group that contained Denmark, Czech Republic and a resurgent Armenia. Winning this group ensured that the Azzurri have now qualified for every World Cup since 1962.
Looking ahead to the championships, the Italians are expected the have one of the most experienced squads of any side. Figures like Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Pirlo, Daniele De Rossi and Giorgio Chiellini still make up the core of this side, but youngsters like Lorenzo Insigne, Stephan El Shaarawy and Mattia De Sciglio could be blooded in to give the first XI a revitalized feel.
With the baulk of the Italian squad coming from Juventus and AC Milan, the players will have a cohesive understanding of how their team mates operate. The starting XI will be full of club partnerships – particularly in defence and midfield – and that familiarity will no doubt serve them well here.
But it’s tough to predict how Italy will get on, as their World Cup record is incredibly unpredictable. Having won the tournament in 2006, their last appearance was farcical. The Italians failed to win a game and finished bottom of what was a relatively straightforward group. With a squad containing a subtle blend of youth and experience taking shape heading into the 2014 tournament, this time around, the quarterfinals should be the minimum expectancy for Prandelli’s side.
Key Player – Andrea Pirlo
Having earned 107 caps for his country at the time of writing, it seems like Pirlo has been around for an age and at 35-years-old, this looks set to be his last ever major tournament.
The Juventus midfielder has learned to adapt his game, no longer being used as what you’d call a classic defensive midfielder, but as a deep-lying playmaker. He is still masterful in this position and has a massive influence on games with expert passing, unparalleled vision, unnerving composure and pin-point set-piece ability.
The man the Juventus fans have dubbed ‘Mozart’ is gradually being eased out of the side at club level. But the same can not be said for the national team who are still dependent on Pirlo to manage the play and keep the team ticking over.