Italy’s quest for a fifth World Cup has taken them to Brazil 2014, with a squad bursting at the seams with Scudetto winners, seasoned internationals and intriguing young talents. But, as is usually the case, some players will stand head and shoulders above their teammates.
In 2006 it was Fabio Cannavaro and Gianluigi Buffon, Paolo Rossi in 1982 and, in the pre-war triumphs, the likes of Silvio Piola and Raimundo Orsi. Today’s vintage can write their names in history as did their predecessors, and there some likely candidates among Cesare Prandelli’s 23-man squad.
The holdovers from 2006 will again be crucial. Buffon remains one of the world’s best goalkeepers and, despite turning 36 in January, shows no sign of slowing down. Indeed, it seems his career has been one long peak, starting with that famous debut against Milan in November 1995. Almost 20 years later and Buffon remains at the top of his game.
Andrea Pirlo, Buffon’s vice-captain, has grown in importance and repute over the last few years. A year younger than the goalkeeper, he has defied his advancing years to produce arguably his best few seasons as his career draws to a close. The Juventus playmaker brings an assuredness to the midfield that many countries badly lack and provides a goal threat with his free-kicks and penalties – he’s the third highest-scorer in the squad.
Only a goal behind Pirlo is Mario Balotelli. There’s a good chance the Milan forward will become the squad’s leading scorer by the time Italy’s involvement in the tournament is at an end. His current strike rate of 12 in 30 is more than respectable and reflects his status as the most expensive Italy player in the World Cup Fantasy Football game at EuroFantasyLeague.com. Balotelli often rises to a challenge and there is none greater than the World Cup.
Balotelli, Pirlo and Buffon are arguably the three most famous names in the Azzurri squad but seasoned watchers of Serie A may point to Ciro Immobile as the player to provide a spark. Fresh from a move to Borussia Dortmund, the 24-year-old is an international rookie with only two caps, but last season was one of Italy’s most dangerous forwards. 22 goals in 33 games for Torino was a phenomenal return and he goes into the World Cup in superb form, netting a hat-trick against Fluminense.
The decision not to take Giuseppe Rossi means Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne have to step up. Insigne, 23, wasn’t exactly prolific for Napoli last year – getting eight goals in all competitions – but impressed enough not only to get into the World Cup squad but be linked with a move to Arsenal be linked with a move to Arsenal.
Marco Verratti is another of the new generation to keep an eye on. Surrounded by the experience of Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi, the Paris Saint-Germain midfielder will be able to learn from the best. This World Cup may be a little soon for the former Pescara starlet but, if called upon, he won’t let anyone down.
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