Italy: Why Balotelli and El Shaarawy Make Them World Cup Contenders

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Italy: Why Balotelli and El Shaarawy Make Them World Cup Contenders
Claudio Villa/Getty Images

The striker position has been a thorn in the side of the Italian national team for a long time now.  

Even during the team's magical run to the 2006 World Cup title, the Azzurri didn't have a top striker—they scored 12 goals through 10 different players.

In that tournament, Francesco Totti was still playing with metal plates in his ankle and Alessandro Del Piero was being deployed as a super-sub. The forward line was led by Luca Toni (scorer of 31 goals that season at Fiorentina) and Alberto Gilardino (17 goals with AC Milan).

Since then, Del Piero and Totti have both left the international scene, while Toni, Gilardino and fellow World Cup winner Vincenzo Iaquinta have never reached the heights they attained before Germany.  

The lack of creative forwards like Giuseppe Rossi was blamed for the team's dismal title defense in South Africa in 2010, and even after Rossi became a mainstay for Cesare Prandelli, successive knee injuries have robbed Prandelli of his services since October of 2011.

The team has turned to stop-gaps like Antonio Cassano, Antonio Di Natale and Fabio Quagliarella to try and score goals, but it hasn't been working. In the run-up to Euro 2012, friendly defeats against Ireland, Uruguay, and the United States saw the Italians dominate possession and create numerous chances, but still fail to find the net.

Fortunately for the Italian faithful, a bumper crop of young attacking talent is on the way.  Leading the way for this new generation are AC Milan pair Stephan El Shaarawy and Mario Balotelli.  

These two talented forwards are going to be leading the line for Italy for years, and their presence on the team will make the Azzurri legitimate contenders for the World Cup title in 2014.

What is it that they give the team? Let's take a look and find out.

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