Not many national teams can compare with Italy’s prestigious history at the World Cup, with the Azzurri preparing themselves for Brazil 2014 in the hope of adding to their four titles. A strong qualifying campaign under the guidance of Cesare Prandelli has restored faith and pride, which was severely damaged after a trouble-filled first round exit in South Africa 2010, in the national team. Italy can take great encouragement from their performance at Euro 2012, where they denied victory at the final hurdle by Spain, as it showcased their traditionalist qualities and ability to compete against the best nations.
The current crop of players will hope to follow in the footsteps of previous teams that are not only considered the greatest to represent Italy, but also amongst the best international sides in the history of world football. Prandelli can pick his 23-man squad from a talented pool of players to represent Italy at this summer’s World Cup, with a wealth of experience matched with the emergence of highly-rated prospects and players who have made a huge impression in Serie A during the 2013/2014 season. Among those is Lazio’s Antonio Candreva who could be utilised as Italy’s secret weapon as a creative midfielder who has a real eye for goal.
Over the years, Italy have established an infamous reputation for being incredibly difficult to break down, with two resolute banks of four effectively restricting creativity and the number of chances they allow. While the Azzuri do pack a considerable punch going forward at the other end, it can be assured that Italy will arrive in Brazil with a water-tight defence which will provide the foundations for the more attack-minded players to flourish. The Juventus trio of Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli are pivotal to the system Prandelli prefers to play; Italy will look to play free-flowing, attacking football whenever the opportunity presents itself, but will immediately form a solid defensive line when the opposition are on the ball, particularly against nations like Spain where possession is likely to be minimal. As Brazil 2014 may prove to be Buffon’s last major international tournament, it would be a fitting end for one of Italy’s greatest ever goalkeepers if Italy were to go all the way to the Final and lift the famous trophy – they are backed to do so at 25/1.
If Italy holds any aspiration of making great strides during the World Cup, they will have to qualify from a potentially tough group which includes England, Uruguay and Costa Rica. The opening fixture against England could be a true indication of whether Italy have what it takes to become a major contender for the title, but the match may prove a challenge for both sides. Players will have to endure the highest humidity levels in Brazil as the game is to be played in Manaus – right at the heart of the Amazon rainforest – which is only accessible via boat or plan, thus creating concern that neither team will be in the best condition to play a World Cup fixture. England and Uruguay will undoubted be Italy’s biggest threats for one of the qualifying spots from Group D, although Costa Rica should not be underestimated. Italy will have hopefully learnt the harsh lessons from South Africa 2010 that there is no such thing as an easy game at the World Cup.
Although Italy have enough quality throughout the team to mount a considerable challenge in Brazil, their hopes may lay on the shoulders of Mario Balotelli who has the ability to turn a game on its head in the blink of an eye. Equally explosive on the pitch as he is controversial off it, the AC Milan star continues to show positive signs that he is maturing as a footballer and will no doubt be aided by Clarence Seedorf, who himself dealt with the expectation and pressure of being one of the best players in the world. He is 33/1 to finish the World Cup as the top scorer, with 50/1 odds on offer for Balotelli to win the Golden Boot and Italy to equal Brazil’s record of five World Cup titles.