Football Italiano’s 500@five – Are Lippi’s 16 good enough?

A couple of days ago La Gazzetta Dello Sport carried a headline suggesting that Italian Coach Marcello Lippi had decided on 16 of the 23 players that he planned to take with him to South Africa for this summer’s World Cup.


As has been widely anticipated in the peninsula most of the players picked by Lippi are from the same class of 2006 which triumphed in Germany. In fact out of the 16 names which appeared in the paper only four of those players did not feature in the previous edition. Ideally experienced veterans are invaluable to a squad on an international stage, however, in the Azzurri’s case the veterans are dangerously close to falling under the category of ‘past their prime’.

The defenders on that list include Gianluca Zambrotta, Fabio Cannavaro, Fabio Grosso and Nicola Legrottaglie. All four players are over the 30 year mark and the past four years have seen a remarkable drop in their form. Cannavaro is 36 and his performances of late are in no way reminiscent of the Ballon d’Or winning showings of 2006. Recently the Italian defender has even slipped behind Legrottaglie in the Juve pecking order. Rather than that being a testament to the latter’s quality it is evidence of age catching up with the World Cup winning captain.

Legrottaglie himself is 33 and is by no means one of the top eight Italian defenders in the league, if indeed Lippi is to pick players on merit. Zambrotta and Grosso too have witnessed a drop in their pace from four years ago. Their lack of speed was exploited by the Irish wingers in the Azzurri’s last real test of the World Cup qualifying campaign back in October. In fact the only Italian defender who is still infallible is Giorgio Chiellini. He has pretty much been the sole bright spot in Juventus’ disastrous run of late. He will be one of the first names on the team sheet along with Gianluigi Buffon.

The Bari pairing of Andrea Ranocchia and Andrea Masiello has been mighty impressive this season, but the former suffered an injury three weeks ago which is likely to keep him out for quite some time. The chances of Lippi taking one of these players to South Africa are next to nil but they definitely seem to be more on form. Alessandro Nesta remains an option if Lippi is to convince him to come out of retirement. The AC Milan man has always been unfortunate with injuries when it comes to football’s biggest event but he is the only one of the veterans who can stake a valid claim to the side. Domenico Criscito of Genoa has been called up recently but it is improbable that he would be picked ahead of Grosso on the left flank.

Talk of the left flank obviously brings Inter starlet Davide Santon to mind and the youngster has been impressive upon his return to the Nerazzurri lineup in the New Year. The 19 year old has played three games against top sides like Milan, Juventus and Fiorentina and players have rarely got past him. His performance against Milan particularly when the team was down to 10 men earned him plaudits from all quarters. Yet despite the adulation from the media, Lippi seems unfazed about keeping him out of the squad. Paolo De Ceglie is another youngster who is expected to be left behind as he has been on the fringes of the Bianconeri squad. The left-back looks to be enormously talented but hasn’t been given many opportunities to prove himself at the top level.

It is very unlikely – and nigh impossible – that Lippi will change his mind or his squad before embarking to South Africa. However, at the current rate it seems as if the Italian’s persistence will do more harm to the Azzurri than good. This writer feels that if Italy hopes to mount a serious challenge to retain its crown in the summer Lippi must rethink his policy lest the Azzurri will experience another disappointing campaign.

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