Marcello Lippi this week cut his World Cup party down to 28 players with the Juventus duo of Fabio Grosso and Antonio Candreva being the unlucky men. Grosso’s omission was not so surprising as in Serie A this season he has the worst average rating of any player who has played more than 20 games. Worryingly for Azzurri fans, the next three on that list are all still included in the squad. Gennaro Gattuso, Gianluca Zambrotta and Fabio Cannavaro along with Grosso, all have an average of less than six out of 10. It seems Lippi continues to show loyalty to certain members of the 2006 squad.
Candreva can consider himself unlucky to have been left out of the final 23, his place in the squad looks to have been taken by Simone Pepe of Udinese. Lippi will have noted the Roman-born midfielder’s excellent link-up play with Antonio Di Natale for his club side and this is what may have got him the vote over the Juventus man. It is another Juventus player, Mauro Camoranesi that also now finds his place in danger. With Claudio Marchisio, Riccardo Montolivo and Pepe seemingly in the final 23, Lippi will select either Camoranesi or Andrea Cossu from Cagliari to make up his midfield eight. Cossu’s adaptability to play either in the centre or out wide could get Lippi’s vote come the final reckoning.
In defence, six of the seven places now seem finalised with Christian Maggio, Dominico Criscito and Leonardo Bonucci all looking likely to be on the plane to South Africa. The inclusion of Maggio and Criscito has given the clearest indication yet of what could be Lippi’s opening line-up against Paraguay on June 14. All reports in the Italian Press seem to lead to a 3-5-2 formation with Maggio and Criscito playing as the wide men. Bonucci could well be the surprise package starting alongside Cannavaro and Giorgio Chiellini in defence. Daniele De Rossi with either Claudio Marchisio or Angelo Palombo, will anchor midfield, leaving Andrea Pirlo to sit behind the strikers and play the fantasista role.
In attack, Fiorentina’s Alberto Gilardino looks like a certain starter and he could be partnered by Di Natale, Vicenzo Iaquinta or Giampaolo Pazzini. The fifth and final striking berth looks like a battle between Marco Borriello, Giuseppe Rossi and Fabio Quagliarella. Lippi has two friendly matches to tweak his tactical formations. 3-5-2 could easily give way to 4-3-1-2 which would place De Rossi at the base of a midfield diamond with Pirlo at the tip with possibly Marchisio on the left and Pepe on the right. The goalkeeping positions look done and dusted with Gianluigi Buffon backed up by Napoli’s Morgan De Sanctis and Cagliari’s Federico Marchetti. Palermo youngster Salvatore Sirigu will be the stand-by choice. The clock is ticking for Lippi who said this week “in another 10 days I will have finally decided my 23.” The whole of Italy waits with bated breath.