The beautiful ski resort of Sestriere will be the base for Marcelo Lippi and his Italy squad as final preparations get under way for the defence of their trophy. By the time the squad arrives for altitude training on May 23, the initial count of 30 players will be shortened to 27 – the final squad plus four named reserves – before the definitive 23 are submitted on June 1.
Lippi’s opening choices have contained few surprises with the spine of the team displaying Lippi’s loyalty to the players that brought the trophy home from Berlin four years ago. His squad selections have not been well received back in the peninsula, but closer examination does give all Italian fans cause for optimism. In defence, it seems that Fabio Grosso’s and Gianluca Zambrotta’s places are in most danger. The inclusion of young Bari defender Leonardo Bonucci and Genoa’s Dominic Criscito will have made the two veterans rest a little uneasy in their beds. Bonucci has had a wonderful season with the Serie A newcomers and is a versatile defender comfortably slotting in at full-back as well as in the centre of defence. Criscito has been used as part of a three man defence in Genoa this season but can also play as a wide midfielder in 3-5-2 formation. Napoli’s Christian Maggio, after missing long periods of the season through injury, has had an exceptional end to the campaign and like Criscito, can slot into defence or midfield.
The Juventus central defensive partnership of Giorgio Chiellini and Fabio Cannavaro looks a certainty for South Africa so Genoa and Under-21 stalwart Salvatore Bocchetti looks set for disappointment. In the central area, Daniele De Rossi will play the anchor role with Andrea Pirlo playing at the tip of the midfield diamond formation. Gennaro Gattuso’s powers are on the wane and after Angelo Palombo’s wonderful season with Sampdoria, Lippi may opt for him to partner De Rossi in the holding role. Mauro Camoranesi has had an indifferent season with Juventus and his position could well be in danger from teammates Antonio Candreva and Claudio Marchisio. Fiorentina’s Riccardo Montolivo is also challenging for a starting berth after taking over the captaincy at the Artemio Franchi this season.
In attack is where all the focus has been during the build up to the tournament. Lippi then completed the set of overlooked forward players by ignoring Roma’s Francesco Totti and Luca Toni, and recently naturalised Italian Amauri from Juventus – the latter will be feeling particularly aggrieved as one of his main reasons for getting Italian citizenship was too be included in this World Cup party. Out of the attackers to have made the cut, it seems Lippi will opt for five forwards. Alberto Gilardino and Giampaolo Pazzini formed a credible partnership at Fiorentina but can Lippi seriously overlook Serie A’s top marksman Antonio Di Natale, who seems more at home in a three pronged attack. Add to this the end of season form of Napoli’s Fabio Quagliarella, returning Juventus hot shot Vicenzo Iaquinta and Milan’s Marco Borriello and Lippi has a nice puzzle to have to solve.
The aforementioned strikers have 92 goals between them this season and there is one more name to possibly add to the list. In 1982 it was Paolo Rossi, in 1990 it was Toto Schillaci, in 2010 could it be Giuseppe Rossi who gatecrashes into the squad and becomes the hero of a nation. The little man from Villarreal is in a rich vein of form right now and may yet get a seat on the plane at the expense of one from Borriello and Iaquinta. Lippi has also added another new member to his World Cup party with the appointment of Roma fitness trainer Paolo Bertelli, as he takes the place of Vito Scala. The lessons of a disastrous Confederations Cup are already being addressed with the trip to altitude and in the middle of this are two friendly games, the first is in Brussels against Mexico, the second is against the Swiss in Geneva. June 8 is the day the squad finally leaves for the finals. Whilst Lippi will spend the next few weeks breaking hearts as he cuts the squad, a whole nation will hope that Lippi’s does not overrule his head.