5 Reasons Why Italy Can Challenge for Glory at Next Summer's World Cup
Third is not where Italy wants to be. One of world football's true heavyweights, second place really are the first losers for sides like the Azzurri, who are expected and expect to win every competition they enter.
But there's good to be taken from this summer's Confederation Cup bronze, and the experience could still lead to gold in 12 months time.
Prandelli's Team Looks Like It's on the Right Track
The general consensus is that Felipe Scolari's strength lays in his ability to build strong units. The spirit shown by Brazil in the final, the overall work ethic, the visible bonds between the players—all down to Scolari's man management. He's a coach who knows how to take players and build a team.
The same can be said for Prandelli. The Azzurri resemble a club side, so close are the players. There's a real understanding between them and a clear comprehension of one another's roles. Improvement is needed, but the foundation on which Prandelli will try to build his World Cup challenge is incredibly strong.
Only Penalties Separated Italy and Spain
A lot of people like to point to Italy's dismal show in the Euro 2012 final, when Spain beat them 4-0, as evidence of the gulf in class between the Azzurri and the current world champions. But in Brazil, Prandelli's men showed, just as they did earlier at the Euros when they drew 1-1 with the Spaniards, that they have the measure of the la Furia Roja.
It took 14 penalties to separate the two in the semi-final, after a gruelling 120 minutes of football. Losing like that to the greatest team in a generation suggests that Italy aren't so bad, either.
Italy Did What Spain Couldn't
OK, they lost 2-4 to eventual champions Brazil, but Italy did manage to score twice against the Selecao—something that was beyond the mighty Spain.
They also did it without Daniele De Rossi or Andrea Pirlo. In other words, they did it without the heart of the squad. The Roma player's energy, tenacity and skill have been the driving force behind this Azzurri squad in recent years and any Italy side without him is the weaker for it. The same must be said for Pirlo, who's elegant passing and control of the tempo provides the perfect foil to De Rossi's electricity.
The pair would surely have had an effect on the game, both in attack and defence. Assuming they're fit next summer, Daniele and Andrea will fancy a chance to face the Brazilians.
Having Tested His Side Against the Best, Prandelli Will Be Well-Prepared
In the last 12 months, Italy have played the best teams in world football. At Euro 2012, they beat Germany with a convincing performance and a brace from Mario Balotelli.
At the Confederations Cup, they narrowly lost out to Spain, beat Uruguay and showed promise against Brazil. All that's been missing is a clash with Lionel Messi's Argentina, who they'll meet in a glamorous friendly in Rome this August.
It's all perfect preparation for Prandelli, who will return to Brazil next summer fully aware of how his side shape up compared to the world's best.
The Next Generation Has Arrived
Italy has a fine crop of young players on the verge of cementing their places in the senior set-up.
Prandelli has already come to rely on Mattia De Sciglio, Stephan El Shaarawy and Mario Balotelli, but had it not been for the Under-21 European Championships in Israel, Italy's side in Brazil would have featured more fresh faces. The boss has said so himself here, via football-italia.net.
Roma's Alessandro Florenzi and Mattia Destro are known to interest Prandelli, who has used both players in the past, and Marco Verratti will surely be there next summer. A breakthrough season at Napoli under new boss Rafa Benitez would surely see Lorenzo Insigne's name on the team sheet as well.
Liverpool's Fabio Borini might get a nod, while a big club move for Angelo Ogbonna might see the talented defender in an Azzurri shirt in Brazil.
The core of the Confederations Cup team is a strong one, but the next 12 months will be all about adding depth and some freshness for Prandelli. There's work to be done, but the finished product could be very interesting indeed.