Italy will face Cyprus in Parma on Wednesday, safe in the knowledge that their place at the World Cup finals in South Africa has been secured, even if it took a last gasp winner from Alberto Gilardino to do so. Now they are back in Italy awaiting a Cypriot team who destroyed Bulgaria 4-1 at the weekend and will be wanting to continue their ongoing improvement by testing the Azzurri. Cyprus are up to fourth in the group and have excelled in these qualifiers, however, Marcello Lippi’s reigning World Champions have looked anything but excellent. The group table may look as though Italy have cruised through this qualification period, however, this could not be further from the truth. It was against Cyprus in the Neo GSP Stadium at the start of the campaign that Antonio Di Natale saved the Azzurri from getting an only a point – rescuing his team by snatching an injury time winner. Some things have not changed.
Lippi has had some changes forced on him and some he will make to test younger talents towards the end of the game. Gianluigi Buffon is playing with a broken meniscus and his troubled knee will see him watch Cagliari’s Federico Marchetti take up his position between the posts. Davide Santon will also start as Lippi rests Fabio Grosso to give the Inter starlet a chance to shine. Lippi had been quoted as saying that originally he would not change too many players in this game and judging by his teams under par performance against the Irish and considering Cyprus’ recent victory over Bulgaria it is unlikely that any wholesale changes will be made. Lippi will be very aware of the frustrations over the manner in which Italy have qualified and a big final result against Cyprus on Wednesday would go a small way to silence the growing number of critics.
2 Zambrotta – 4 Chiellini – 13 Legrottaglie – 2 Santon
16 Pepe – 6 De Rossi – 10 Pirlo – 7 Camoranesi
9 Gilardino – 15 Iaquinta
Cyprus will arrive in Parma brimming with confidence after the thrashing of Bulgaria last weekend. The result will mean that Coach Angelos Anastasiadis will not be ringing the changes for the game on Wednesday. His tactics will stay the same – pack the midfield with an unusual 3-6-1 formation. This allows two holding midfielders to help out the defence, with the wingers changing to wing backs should the game need it. The Cypriot success has come in scoring goals, 12 in all, only three behind the Italians, however, 13 conceded shows that there is much room for improvement. Anorthosis Famagusta’s success in the Champions League fired warning shots to the rest of Europe that Cyprus were no longer one of Europe’s whipping boys, this confidence and national belief has found its way onto the pitch with the national team as they have tested Italy before and were a minute away from a point. Ireland too, were pushed to the edge, only just getting the three points, while Cyrpus beat Georgia and the aforementioned Bulgaria.
8 Elia – 2 Paraskevas – 11 Constantinou
17 Satsias – 10 Charalampidis – 13 Michail – 12 Makridis – 7 Aloneftis – 6 Avraam
The Azzurri will have to be on their guard in Parma, as Cyprus will arrive ready for a fight and the game could go to the wire. Over confidence will not be allowed by Lippi as this result will have a big pull on the nation’s opinion on this Italian team. Questions have been asked of players who are included, are they too old? Not good enough? Not committed? Then there are the players, most notably Antonio Cassano, who are left out, along with many of Italy’s new young generation, who many believe should be going to South Africa. Lippi has shown his hand in qualification and a convincing win on Wednesday night will leave his critics looking at cold hard facts. An undefeated qualifying campaign as impressive as the 1982 or 2006 groups, where Italy went on to win the whole competition. If they are defeated at home however, then it may just be time for Lippi to look at his squad again and ask whether he can afford to leave Italy’s new, raw young talent untested any longer.