Italy - Team Profile
Second only to five-time winners and hosts Brazil in terms of tournament experience and honours
Andrea Pirlo remains the key man for Italy. Photograph: Claudio Villa/Getty Images
Manager: Cesare Prandelli
Best finish: Winners (1934, 1938, 1982, 2006)
World Cup record: Played 83, Won 45, Drawn 21, Lost 17
Second only to five-time winners and hosts Brazil in terms of tournament experience and honours, with three World Cup wins to their name as well as two further semi-final appearances in (1970 and 1994). The 2006 final, most notable for Zinedine Zidane’s improvised head butt into the chest of Marco Materazzi, ended in a win over France on penalties and bridged a gap of 24 years to their last win at Spain ‘82. In South Africa, however, they endured a disastrously brief campaign that saw them draw with Paraguay and New Zealand before bowing out with an insipid 3-2 defeat to Slovakia.
Prandelli is something of a maverick in Italian circles, an advocate of a more attacking style of play than is traditionally espoused by dogmatic countrymen. He’s not reckless by any means but he has recognised the need in the modern game for “attractive football”. That means two men up front - Mario Balotelli and one other, Antonio Cassano - in what could loosely be described as a 4-3-3 or a 4-3-1-2, with a ‘number 10’ behind the strikers and two further midfielders protecting playmaker extraordinaire Andrea Pirlo in front of the defence.
All Star - Andrea Pirlo
Pirlo’s (35) so good, barely anyone noticed him for the first 28 years of his life and then everyone did and unanimously claimed him as their own, “going back years, like”. He does understatement very well, sitting deep, taking possession from his defenders and shifting entire defences back and forth across the pitch with a look up here and an about turn there. When they talk about Steven Gerrard in the quarter-back role, they mean Pirlo, because nobody does it better. When he ticks, Italy motor. England and Uruguay will need to nullify Pirlo, as Spain did in the Euro 2012 final, when pressing high up the pitch. Allow him to turn and they’re in trouble.
County Colours - Dublin
Divided north and south, united by boys in blue and organised crime
Pundit’s Corner - Giovanni Trapattoni: “Pirlo, aaaaahh, like conductor, no? At La Scala. He see, all round. You see? Nothing!”
Undefeated when topping Uefa’s Group B by six points ahead of Denmark. You can never rule out the four-time champions, so we won’t, but Group D is tricky group and it begins with a sticky trip to tropical Manaus to face England. Conditions there may well suit them better than their opponents, however, and a shootout out for first and second could well happen against Uruguay in their final game in Natal on June 24th. Win the group and they could head over to Spain’s side of the draw, come second and, perhaps, Colombia and then Brazil await. The familiarity of the defending world champions is preferable.
Goalkeepers: 1 Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), 12 Salvatore Sirigu (Paris Saint-Germain, Fra), 13 Mattia Perin (Genoa).
Defenders: 2 Mattia De Sciglio (Milan), 3 Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), 4 Matteo Darmian (Torino), 7 Ignazio Abate (Milan), 15 Andrea Barzagli (Juventus), 19 Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), 20 Gabriel Paletta (Parma).
Midfielders: 5 Thiago Motta (Paris Saint-Germain, Fra), 6 Antonio Candreva (Lazio), 8 Claudio Marchisio (Juventus), 14 Alberto Aquilani (Fiorentina), 16 Daniele De Rossi (Roma),18 Marco Parolo (Parma), 21 Andrea Pirlo (Juventus), 23 Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain, Fra).
Forwards: 9 Mario Balotelli (Milan), 10 Antonio Cassano (Parma), 11 Alessio Cerci (Torino), 17 Ciro Immobile (Torino), 22 Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli).
ITALY (v England): 12 Salvatore Sirigu; 4 Matteo Darmian, 15 Andrea Barzagli, 20 Gabriel Paletta, 3 Giorgio Chiellini; 8 Claudio Marchisio, 16 Daniele De Rossi, 23 Marco Verratti (5 Thiago Motta, 57 mins); 21 Andrea Pirlo; 6 Antonio Candreva (18 Marco Parolo,79 mins), 9 Mario Balotelli (17 Ciro Immobile, 73 mins).
ITALY (v Costa Rica): 1 Gianluigi Buffon; 7 Ignazio Abate, 15 Andrea Barzagli, 3 Giorgio Chiellini, 4 Matteo Darmian; 16 Daniele De Rossi, 21 Andrea Pirlo, 5 Thiago Motta (10 Antonio Cassano, half-time); 6 Antonio Candreva (22 Lorenzo Insigne, 57 mins), 8 Claudio Marchisio (11 Alessio Cerci, 69 mins); 9 Mario Balotelli (yc).
ITALY (v Uruguay): 1 Gianluigi Buffon; 4 Matteo Darmian, 15 Andrea Barzagli, 19 Leonardo Bonucci, 3 Giorgio Chiellini, 2 Mattia De Sciglio (yc); 23 Marco Verratti (5 Thiago Motta,75 mins), 21 Andrea Pirlo, 8 Claudio Marchisio (rc); 17 Ciro Immobile (10 Antonio Cassano, 71 mins), 9 Mario Balotelli (yc).