The World Cup draw is looming. As the big date approaches, Nazionale Coach Marcello Lippi can indeed be satisfied, having qualified his side undefeated – but he will be also concerned by the Azzurri’s recent struggles to find the back of the net and put games to bed. Over their ten games in the qualifying group, the Italians mustered 18 goals – not a poor tally, but rather overshadowed by some of the other teams in Pot One of the draw, as Spain and Germany finished in the high 20s, while England, despite a defeat, must have pleased Fabio Capello by scoring a staggering 34 goals.
Troubles up-front for Italy are likely to be a product of their striker’s failure to prove themselves as worthy full time starters. Over Lippi’s second stint in charge there has never been a player whom he could look at as a main front man. Giuseppe Rossi of Villareal would appear to still be one for the future but not a name for the starting XI or indeed the squad in South Africa. Vincenzo Iaquinta has never really shined in Azzurro and frankly there should be questions over him as he appears to be behind Amauri and David Trezeguet at his own club. Fabio Quagliarella of Napoli has failed to translate his form displayed on the domestic scene at the bigger stage, and furthermore he is now playing in a side which is struggling for goals, so his killer instinct may be a bit rusty. Alberto Gilardino, despite a hat-trick against islanders Cyprus, is another player who doesn’t get himself on the score-sheet for his National side as much as he does for his club Fiorentina. On the big occasions he appears to suffer from that stage fright that haunted him at AC Milan. This list could go on with the names of Antonio Di Natale, Giampaolo Pazzini and of course disgraced son Antonio Cassano, who with every passing game seems destined to enjoy next summers tournament from his own home.
Once qualifying was wrapped, back in early October, with a last ditch draw in Dublin, rumours began to circle in the press that the ‘Figlio della Lupa’ , Francesco Totti, made himself available to Coach Lippi. In true Italian style this sparked a considerable degree of controversy – would it be fair to give a player who’d missed the qualifying campaign a ticket to the biggest tournament in a players career? Surely those who had actually booked Italy’s place in South Africa deserved the chance to fulfil their dreams. Totti has already had ample opportunities – playing in Germany 2006 he took part in his third World Cup after 1998 and 2002. Furthermore at the last tournament he was still recovering from injury and his inclusion in the squad was feared could be more of a burden than a positive.
These theories to keep him out of the South Africa squad could easily be answered as such. Totti silenced all his critics in 2006 by being an integral part to Lippi’s tactics. And as for not being involved in the qualifying, although sportsmanship would have those who did be called up, competing in the World Cup for a country like Italy is big business, and Lippi must call those who guarantee a greater chance of success. Recent performances would suggest, despite his age, that the Roma Captain is still fully qualified for this type of competition. Ultimate proof came in yesterday’s game with surprise outfit Bari. It is no secret that Roma’s season has so far been far from smooth sailing. The new players hardly had time to learn former Coach Luciano Spalletti’s name as he was soon out the door and replaced by Claudio Ranieri. Since then the Giallorossi have slowly dragged themselves to mid table, though their away form is still very shaky.
The game yesterday started strong with both teams hunting for the opener. It was a foul on an inspired Marko Vucinic which earned the penalty, converted by Totti, for the 1-0. A free kick and a fabulous strike that nestled into the top corner followed, and these gave Totti his hat-trick, and now he’s fronting the scorers table with nine goals in only eight games. Ironically, defender Marco Andreolli, who was so close to Bari in the summer, scored the own goal that acted as consolation for the visitors.
Italy awakes with the debate over the 33-year-old reignited. Should a man who has been out of the National side since the summer of 2007 and who is likely to suffer from further injury this season, receive the call up to resolve Lippi’s goal scoring problems? Italy is divided and will be more so with every goal he produces. With seven months to go this debate is far from over, watch this space.