After a typical Italian performance in the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil, where a slow start was negated by an increase of form later in the tournament, the Italian national team is poised to go all the way next summer in Brazil.
Under coach Cesare Prandelli, the Azzurri have adopted a new strategy of keeping the ball on the ground more and playing aesthetically pleasing football.
Italy can secure their place in the World Cup with a tie against the Czech Republic. The Azzurri only need one point to assure qualification.
However, the most important aspect of this post is describing just how well Italy has played against Spain, who go into next year's competition as the favorites.
It seems that La Roja's main Achilles' heel throughout the past few years has been Italy. Prandelli has found a formula to quell the famous tiki-taka possession play, suffocating them with a five-man midfield with plenty of heart and desire.
Against Spain in the Confederations Cup, Prandelli had the right formula to go toe-to-toe with the reigning World Cup Champions. There's no doubt that his team will be even better and more experienced next year.
Cesare Prandelli has found success using both a 3-5-2 and a 4-3-3 formation. With a three-man defense, he has employed a Juventus-like formation that employs the entire Bianconeri back line.
The highly offensive 4-3-3 lacks the true defensive grit of previous Azzurri sides, as the Juventus centre-backs are more adept at playing as a back three.
Another problem with the four-man defense are wing-backs like Christian Maggio who hardly excel on the defensive end.
There are other interesting roster developments unfolding as well. Stephan El Shaarawy has been snubbed since the Confederations Cup, finding himself on the bench after impressing in the first half of last season with Milan.
Up front, there's little doubt that Mario Balotelli will be spearheading the front line, although the positions that flank him are still up for grabs. While Emanuele Giaccherini won fans over with his valiant performances in the Confederations Cup, he lacks the true skill needed to play at the highest level.
The immortal Andrea Pirlo will continue to pull the strings, even though there's speculation that next year's competition will be the last one he plays on the international level.
In the recent World Cup qualifier against Bulgaria, Prandelli opted to start young starlet Lorenzo Insigne. The Napoli winger loves playing on the left of a 4-3-3 and cutting in onto his right foot to create for teammates or curl the ball into the top corner.
Despite these few question marks, the Azzurri starting XI is a compact team with plenty of chemistry. The midfield is one of the finest in the world, and there will surely be no lack of experience by the time the 2014 World Cup in Brazil rears its head.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!