Why Italy Have a Strong Chance at World Cup 2014
Italy have the necessary quality to be real contenders for next year's World Cup in Brazil.
The Azzurri can boast several world-class players that would be a match for any other player in their position. Mario Balotelli, Andrea Pirlo, Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli all form the spine of a team that can be a legitimate challenge to dethrone Spain in 2014.
Cesare Prandelli has proved that he has new ideas that complement the fundamentals of Italian football.
By gradually introducing those fresh concepts to the principles that have made Italy historically the second best country in international football—winning four World Cups, one short of Brazil's record five victories—Prandelli can realistically expect his team to beat anybody when they implement their game plan perfectly.
A humbling from La Roja last year in the final of Euro 2012 will have given Prandelli cause for concern and perhaps a reality check. But it happened with ample time to be able to correct those faults in the side.
Fresh blood is also emerging from Italy's youth teams, and with the Azzurrini reaching the final of the European under-21 championships this summer, players such as Lorenzo Insigne and Marco Verratti might be wild cards for Italy in a year's time.
Tactics and game plans are all well and good, but sometimes games at this level are decided by moments of genius, so it helps to have a couple of players who can be that difference over 90 minutes.
Prandelli will pinpoint Balotelli as one of those. The 22-year-old striker is in the form of his life after leaving Manchester City in January, averaging close to a goal per game over the last six months.
The Rossoneri centre-forward can boast the ability to score goals in as many ways as any other striker in the game. Free-kicks, headers, penalties under the most intense pressure, finesse finishes or even acrobatic volleys, Balotelli is a threat in any situation on the pitch.
Therefore service is key and with a player like Pirlo, who possesses a range of passing to rival anything that tiki-taka can throw up, Balotelli can always feel like the ball can come his way, from any range or angle.
Tactical variety is something that Italy can claim to be the leaders of in the game, which is often overlooked when discussing who is capable of winning the World Cup.
With Serie A bringing back the back three over the last few years and Juventus successfully introducing it again to the highest level of European club football in the Champions League, Prandelli can shuffle the pack in order to combat any style of play that comes Italy's way.
The diamond 4-4-2 is something all of the players will be well accustomed to, and Prandelli has also tested the group with a 4-3-3 formation that involves wide players.
Alessandro Diamanti, Alessio Cerci, Stephan El Shaarawy or even young Insigne can all drastically change the dimensions of Italy's side if selected, which means rivals will always be left with a degree of uncertainty when facing the Azzurri.
Spain are the dominant force in world football, but Italy proved that they are more than a match for officially the second best international side in the world: Germany. Outclassing Joachim Low's side in the semi-final of last year's European Championships, Italy would not fear anything else that South America, North America, Asia or Africa can produce.
Italy would probably have to beat Spain in order to lift a fifth World Cup, but with a second opportunity to test themselves against Vicente Del Bosque's side in the Confederations Cup, Italy would be best prepared to topple the holders.
With a luxury that no other side can boast—two competitive meetings against the champions in knock-out situations over the last two years—third time might just be the charm for Italy.
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