2010 World Cup – The 23-man Italy squad according to Football Italiano

With the big kick-off in South Africa only weeks away, Football Italiano takes you through the 23 players likely to make Marcello Lippi’s Italy squad for the 2010 World Cup.

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We have followed the Azzurri and the players mentioned below closely through the 2009/10 season and present our selection based on those who featured during the qualifying campaign, prominently during friendlies, and form for their clubs throughout the season. As a result of our effort to enter Lippi’s mind, a certain Sampdoria fantasista has not been considered.

1 Gianluigi Buffon

Club – Juventus

Age – 32 (January 28, 1978)

Caps/goals – 100/0

Azzurri position – Goalkeeper

2010 target – Fitness will be Buffon’s only concern ahead of the 2010 tournament. The Juve man has been No 1 for his country for most of his distinguished career and only another long-term injury such as the one that saw him miss the early stages of last season will see him miss Lippi’s final selection.

14 Federico Marchetti

Club – Cagliari

Age – 27 (February 7, 1983)

Caps/goals – 4/0

Azzurri position – Goalkeeper

2010 target – A year ago, Marchetti was the new kid on the block in the Azzurri goalkeeping department when he made his debut against Northern Ireland in June 2009. His fantastic form for Cagliari, coupled with Marco Amelia’s patchy performances at Palermo last season, and Genoa this campaign, have seen Marchetti cement his position as Buffon’s understudy.

12 Morgan De Sanctis

Club – Napoli

Age – 33 (March 26, 1977)

Caps/goals – 3/0

Azzurri position – Goalkeeper

2010 target – Having spent 2008/09 on loan from Sevilla at Turkish club Galatasaray, De Sanctis’ stable 2009/10 campaign means he maintains his position in the squad. He will go as third-choice, proof of which lies in his limited opportunities at international level – he has just three caps to his name since his 2005 debut.

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3 Fabio Grosso

Club – Juventus

Age – 32 (November 28, 1977)

Caps/goals – 48/4

Azzurri position – Left-back

2010 target – A poor season at Juventus means that a position that looked so secure before the start of the season is now under threat from Domenico Criscito. Grosso is fortunate Lippi has a habit of staying loyal to his men, because a different Coach would take the step of benching him. It is this loyalty that is likely to see the Juve man retain his first-team place for the Azzurri in the summer.

5 Fabio Cannavaro

Club – Juventus

Age – 36 (September 13, 1973)

Caps/goals – 132/2

Azzurri position – Centre-back

2010 target – Another who has suffered from a dismal campaign at Juventus. As captain, he will be one of the first names on the team sheet, but there are now question marks over his ability to cope at international level (which arose at the 2009 Confederations Cup)..

4 Giorgio Chiellini

Club – Juventus

Age – 25 (August 14, 1984)

Caps/goals – 28/2

Azzurri position – Centre-back

2010 target – At club level Chiellini has had an excellent opportunity to build up a fluid understanding with both Buffon and Cannavaro. Having had a superb season for Juventus, he is guaranteed a spot in the squad, and barring injury will take his place in the first-XI.

19 Gianluca Zambrotta

Club – Milan

Age – 33 (February 19, 1977)

Caps/goals – 92/2

Azzurri position – Right-back

2010 target – Zambrotta’s experience at international events will alone almost be enough to pull him to South Africa. But he has lost the pace and stamina of yesteryear, and at times it has shown this season for Milan. Like Grosso, he is likely to benefit from Lippi’s loyalty to the old guard, and should retain a starting berth.

2 Mattia Cassani

Club – Palermo

Age – 26 (August 26, 1983)

Caps/goals – 2/0

Azzurri position – Right-back

2010 target – Injury to Davide Santon has seen a spot in the squad open for a reserve right-back. Cassani is likely to be the beneficiary after an excellent season with Palermo, whose challenge for the Champions League places has seen the profile of their players rise considerably. The fact he plays at right-back for his club gives him the edge over Christian Maggio, his main rival for a squad place.

13 Leonardo Bonucci

Club – Bari

Age – 23 (May 1, 1987)

Caps/goals – 1/0

Azzurri position – Centre-back

2010 target – Injury disrupting Alessandro Gamberini’s year, combined with eye-catching performances at the heart of Bari’s defence this season, has propelled Bonucci into contention for a place in the squad. He may well be fourth-choice, but the experience could be invaluable for the future.

6 Salvatore Bocchetti

Club – Genoa

Age – 23 (November 30, 1986)

Caps/goals – 3/0

Azzurri position – Centre-back

2010 target – In what is probably the biggest surprise of the squad, Bocchetti will head to South Africa in place of Nicola Legrottaglie. His ability to cover the left-back spot was no doubt in Lippi’s mind when selecting him.

22 Domenico Criscito

Club – Genoa

Age – 23 (December 30, 1986)

Caps/goals – 5/0

Azzurri position – Left-back

2010 target – Criscito was one of several players to enjoy a raised profile off the back of an impressive 2008/09 team campaign at Genoa. Various changes in personnel have broken up the unity that characterised Genoa’s success, and they have suffered in 2009/10 as a result. Criscito, however, continues to impress and has not put a foot wrong since making his debut for Italy. He can consider himself unlucky if, as expected, he does not make the starting XI at the World Cup.

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10 Daniele De Rossi

Club – Roma

Age – 26 (July 24, 1983)

Caps/goals – 52/8

Azzurri position – Centre-midfield

2010 target – De Rossi, in Lippi’s favoured 4-3-3, is a certainty for the starting XI. Should Lippi decide to shuffle things around, De Rossi’s only concern will be if the tactician opts for a Gattuso-Pirlo central midfield pairing. However, with Pirlo having been shunted left in recent Azzurri four-man midfields and De Rossi settled at international level and entering his peak years as a player, the Roman has nothing to worry about.

17 Gennaro Gattuso

Club – Milan

Age – 32 (January 9, 1978)

Caps/goals – 71/1

Azzurri position – Centre-midfield

2010 target – An icon for the Azzurri, Gattuso’s role fits into both the three and four-man midfield options and there are few, if any, players in the Italian set-up who can offer Gattuso’s experience and capability in the centre of the pitch. His starting place is under severe threat from Claudio Marchisio to an extent that he will probably start the tournament on the bench.

21 Andrea Pirlo

Club – Milan

Age – 30 (May 19, 1979)

Caps/goals – 65/8

Azzurri position – Centre-midfield

2010 target – Pirlo has been the fulcrum for both club and country and is relied upon in the Azzurri set-up for his creativity and range of passing. The Confederations Cup showed he has the potential to play alongside De Rossi in the middle of the park and also recapture the inspirational form the country last saw in the 2006 World Cup.

20 Riccardo Montolivo

Club – Fiorentina

Age – 25 (January 18, 1985)

Caps/goals – 12/0

Azzurri position – Centre-midfield

2010 target – It is stick-or-twist time for the Viola man. So often enjoying long runs of good form for his club side, Montolivo needs to rise to the higher levels of international football or risk seeing the World Cup as the beginning of the end of what has been a mediocre Azzurri career to date.

18 Angelo Palombo

Club – Sampdoria

Age – 28 (September 25, 1981)

Caps/goals – 15/0

Azzurri position – Centre-midfield

2010 target – A Lippi favourite throughout qualifying, consistently making his squads, Sampdoria’s challenge for the Champions League places in 2009/10 has seen many of their players rise to prominence in much the same way as Palermo’s Italian contingent. Faces tough competition in what is a strong area for Italy, and his place in the 23-man squad for South Africa is by no means guaranteed should Lippi decide to take a sixth forward, as he did in 2006.

8 Claudio Marchisio

Club – Juventus

Age – 24 (January 19, 1986)

Caps/goals – 3/0

Azzurri position – Centre-midfield

2010 target – A debut in the friendly against Switzerland at the very beginning of the season, and Marchisio has not looked back since. He impressed in that game playing on the left hand side of midfield, and although injury has limited his caps since, a fine season at Juventus and his ability to cover two roles in midfield means he has every chance of obtaining a starting place.

16 Mauro Camoranesi

Club – Juventus

Age – 33 (October 4, 1976)

Caps/goals – 53/5

Azzurri position – Right-wing

2010 target – Camoranesi has been desperately shy of form for the Azzurri and struggles with the pressure of being the only source of crosses for the frontmen in Lippi’s 4-3-3. The Argentine-born winger needs to get back to basics – rediscover the ability to beat the first man and deliver countless balls into the box. Despite this he is unlikely to lose his starting place, primarily because he is the best wide-player in the squad.

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7 Antonio Di Natale

Club – Udinese

Age – 32 (October 13, 1977)

Caps/goals – 31/9

Azzurri position – Left-wing/forward

2010 target – A stunning 2009/10 season with Udinese has sealed a squad place that would have been in doubt at the beginning of the campaign. Question marks still remain over whether he is good enough for international football, but a superb goalscoring season and his ability to play out wide will see him on the plane to South Africa. Do not expect a similar goal return for Italy in the summer – his position for his club differs slightly from that of his country.

9 Giampaolo Pazzini

Club – Fiorentina

Age – 25 (August 2, 1984)

Caps/goals – 6/1

Azzurri position – Forward

2010 target – Now finally settled at a club, Pazzini has shown in a season-and-a-half with Sampdoria the sort of talent that marked him out as a great prospect when he played for the Azzurrini. He has scored 28 goals in 54 appearances since moving to Samp, and his form this season has propelled him to the head of the queue to take the place as Alberto Gilardino’s reserve in the squad to South Africa.

11 Alberto Gilardino

Club – Fiorentina

Age – 27 (July 5, 1982)

Caps/goals – 39/16

Azzurri position – Forward

2010 target – 2009/10 has seen Gilardino cement his position as his country’s first-choice prima punta, top scoring in qualifying with four goals, although this statistic is slightly misleading (all four goals were scored in the last two games of the campaign). He has not scored as many goals in Serie A this season as Pazzini, but his track record for Italy and his regular experience in the Champions League over the past two years should give him the edge for a starting place.

23 Giuseppe Rossi

Club – Villarreal

Age – 23 (February 1, 1987)

Caps/goals – 14/3

Azzurri position – Forward

2010 target – Wildly inconsistent – capable of the sublime and the absurd in equal measure. His efforts coming off the bench against USA in last year’s Confederations Cup highlight the ability the youngster has when played in his correct position. He is in direct competition with Fabio Quagliarella for a spot in the 23-man squad, and his inability to adapt to a wide role could see him lose out if Lippi decides against taking six forwards.

15 Vincenzo Iaquinta

Club – Juventus

Age – 30 (November 21, 1979)

Caps/goals – 35/5

Azzurri position – Forward

2010 target – Iaquinta’s place in the squad is under scrutiny. His goal-return for the Azzurri is poor and he was found lacking at the Confederations Cup. Prior to his meniscus injury, he was in great form for Juventus. He has struggled somewhat to reach that level on his return. His place on the plane is relatively secure thanks to his ability to play out wide, though his game in a central role with a strike partner should not be underestimated.

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Italy’s 23-man World Cup 2010 squad (according to Football Italiano )

Goalkeepers

1. Buffon

14. Marchetti

12. De Sanctis

Defenders

3. Grosso

5. Cannavaro

4. Chiellini

19. Zambrotta

2. Cassani

6. Bocchetti

13. Bonucci

22. Criscito

Midfielders

10. De Rossi

17. Gattuso

21. Pirlo

20. Montolivo

18. Palombo

8. Marchisio

16. Camoranesi

Forwards

7. Di Natale

9. Pazzini

11. Gilardino

23. Rossi

15. Iaquinta

Alternatives

In goal, the uncapped Salvatore Sirigu is the only ‘keeper in a position to put pressure on the established trio. His fine form since replacing Rubinho as Palermo’s No.1 saw him called up for the friendly against Cameroon. Barring injury, his lack of international exposure will cost him this time, but the experience of being in and around the squad will stand him in good stead for the future.

Defence sees a genuine dearth of both options and quality available to Lippi – highlighted by the fact he has only chosen four centre-backs in his 30-man preliminary squad, leaving no-one to put pressure on the quartet expected to travel to South Africa. Nicola Legrottaglie – widely expected to be included – has seen poor form and lack of playing time scupper his chances, and in all probability his career at international level is over. Injuries have robbed Lippi of Alessandro Gamberini and Andrea Ranocchia, who are the only other central defenders who had a chance of making the squad.

There would have been a potentially fascinating fight for the full-back spots had Davide Santon not been injured. The Inter man would have been fairly certain of a spot in the 30-man preliminary squad. As it is, Christian Maggio will fight it out with Cassani for the honour of acting as Zambrotta’s reserve. Left-back seems more secure, with Criscito and Bocchetti both able to stand-in for Grosso. It is this that has probably led to Federico Balzaretti, the only other alternative on this flank, being ignored once more.

De Rossi, Gattuso, Marchisio, Camoranesi and Pirlo are certainties for the final squad. The rest depends on whether Lippi will take six forwards, and thus sacrifice a midfielder, as he did in 2006. If that is the case, then Montolivo, Antonio Candreva, Andrea Cossu and Palombo are battling for one spot. Noteworthy exclusions from the preliminary party include Massimo Ambrosini, who has been in much better form than teammate Gattuso this season, yet misses out. Simone Perrotta was so vital to the functioning of the 2006 unit, but he too failed to make the cut. Alberto Aquilani’s struggles with injury, playing time and consistent form mean he had little chance of breaking through this year.

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In attack there is a plethora of options available to Lippi, should he choose to shake things up. Giampaolo Pazzini enjoyed a solid end to the 2008/09 campaign, and continued that form this season. He faces competition from Marco Borriello for the role of Gilardino’s understudy, but would be very unlucky to lose out to the Milan striker. The other battle is between Fabio Quagliarella and Rossi – both of whom fulfil similar roles in the team. Quagliarella has benefitted hugely from Napoli Coach Walter Mazzari’s decision to swap his position with that of Ezequiel Lavezzi – the result of which has seen the Italian hit a vein of form that may well have secured a spot on the plane.

Antonio Di Natale is one player whose international career could have gone either way at the beginning of the season. At 31, time is against him, but it is impossible to ignore a player who has scored 28 Serie A goals in 34 appearances this season (only Didier Drogba and Lionel Messi are above him in the race for Europe’s Golden Shoe) – and this with one game of the season to go. His spot in the squad is secure, and he should make the starting line-up for the first game at least.

Overall, Lippi has more or less selected the best players available to him, barring a certain Antonio Cassano and possibly Fabrizio Miccoli (who is injured anyway, and will miss the tournament). It is difficult to argue for the inclusion of any player that has not made Lippi’s squad, as the Coach has not left a genuine candidate out who could make a difference to this team other than the aforementioned duo. His talents as a Coach will be tested with a modest squad this summer. Worse teams than this have won the World Cup before, but it is difficult to see it happening again in July.

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