Which Players from Italy's Euro 2012 Squad May Be Axed for Brazil 2014 World Cup
Following their win against Czech Republic on Tuesday night, Italy became the seventh team to qualify for next summer's World Cup in Brazil.
However, the boys in blue are, despite having been on a clear upward trajectory for the last two years, not considered in the same breath as favourites Brazil and Spain.
That heady summer of 2006 seems a long time ago: Despite that season's Calciopoli scandal engulfing Serie A, the Azzurri—inspired by the talismanic Fabio Cannavaro—ended a 24-year wait to claim a fourth World Cup for Italy.
Since then, they have never really looked like the indomitable types that they were.
First there was the failure to surpass the quarter-final stage of Euro 2008 (losing on penalties to eventual champions Spain). Then there was the humiliating exit of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, when they finished bottom of their group after failing to beat Slovakia, New Zealand and Paraguay.
In the wake of that debacle, when Marcello Lippi's return was feted as the patriarch coming back to regain the trophy he had won four years previously, Cesare Prandelli was installed as boss. Since then, fortunes have been looking up.
Nobody anticipated an Italy side apparently still in transition to be so resurgent at Euro 2012: With a fired-up Mario Balotelli leading the line, a 4-0 defeat in the final to Spain was perhaps more resounding than it should have been.
It has been two years since Euro 2012, and, in that time, players of that squad have prospered while a selection have wilted.
Let’s now look at the squad that travelled to those European Championships and ascertain who will make the cut and who will get cut.
The Undroppable Veterans
The 2006 World Cup success was considered a deserved outcome for a number of those who featured. They had experienced multiple successes for their clubs, both on a domestic and also Continental scale.
That victory was meant to herald the dawn of a new era, where those enigmas of the modern game could hand over to their younger compatriots.
As detailed previously though, it did not work out quite that way.
Granted, many heroes of that all-conquering 2006 squad have since passed the baton on to the next generation. Alessandro Nesta, Alessandro Del Piero, Gennaro Gattuso and provoker-in-chief Marco Matterazzi have long since called time on their international career (or, in the case of the latter two, retired).
There are those standard-bearers who have survived and are still plying their trade: Daniele De Rossi won his 91st cap against Czech Republic, filling in at central defence.
Andrea Pirlo, at 34, transferred his age-defying abilities from leading Juve's midfield to eruditely aid his national team with his trademark effortless, yet deadly, passing vision.
And then there is the captain, the lead gladiator himself, Gianluigi Buffon. The most expensive stopper of all time and the proud owner of 136 international caps, the man from northern Italy continues to trail-blaze when it comes to setting goalkeeping standards.
After his international career began in 1997, Buffon has now matched the same amount of caps as the legendary Cannavaro. While downplaying this recently, he did state that 150 appearances is the figure he is hoping to achieve, as reported by The Guardian.
With this old guard still being great bastions of that renowned blue jersey, it looks certain that—injury-depending—they will be on the Rio de Janeiro-bound aeroplane.
Gianluigi Buffon: Barring injury (and he has been plagued by chronic back trouble in the past), there is little debate that the captain and legendary goalkeeper is SAFE.
Salvatore Sirigu: He has only won six caps, but his place as Buffon's deputy looks SAFE, with his credentials augmented by being the No. 1 choice for Paris Saint-German, the cash-rich French outfit who are looking to threaten the European hegemony this season.
Morgan De Sanctis: The veteran has never struggled to play regular football—after moving to Roma from Napoli this summer, that looks set to continue—but as he turns 37 in March, it appears he wishes to focus on club football. That makes him likely to be OUT with Lazio's Federico Marchetti set to take the least-vaunted position in international football of third-choice 'keeper.
Giorgio Chiellini: It's very unlikely that the loyal 29-year-old Juve defender will miss out on this tournament. Winning his 66th cap on Tuesday night—where he also scored the equaliser which sparked the victory—he has had notoriously bad luck with injuries but will consider himself SAFE.
Angelo Ogbonna: Following his summer move across Turin, from Torino to Juventus, the versatile 25-year-old will hope to add to his seven caps before Brazil. He should be SAFE but may be worried that he was overlooked for a berth in defence on Tuesday, instead being subbed on into midfield.
Federico Balzaretti: After a strong season as a mainstay in Palermo's defence, the one they call Balzac made four appearances at Euro 2012, but, having not featured for the national team for almost a year, he looks to be OUT of next year's squad. Luca Antonelli and Lorenzo De Silvestri have a chance to argue their case.
Ignazio Abate: Having started 25 league games for AC Milan last season, the 26-year-old is a new breed of Italian defender as he cannons forward, looking to spark action further up the pitch while shoring up the back. After starting Friday's victory against Bulgaria, he looks to be SAFE, even if he was was replaced by Christian Maggio with 10 minutes to go.
Andrea Barzagli: Despite being a regular in the magisterial Juve team which currently reigns supreme, the 32-year-old has question marks over his international future. Following the emergence of Cagliari's Davide Astori and also the strong form of Inter's Andrea Ranocchia, he looks to be ousted and OUT.
Leonardo Bonucci: The only defender to feature in all six of Italy's Euro 2012 games, the fourth Juve player on this list looks to be SAFE. Played the full 90 minutes of Tuesday's decisive qualifier and, at only 26, looks set to feature in a few more tournaments yet.
Christian Maggio: Conversely wearing the No. 2 shirt, the Napoli man provides Prandelli with options as he is happy to feature as an old-fashioned full-back or push further up into a wing-back role. After scoring four goals last season, he looks SAFE, but both Manuel Pasqual and Marco Verratti can take his place if his form faulters.
Thiago Motta: Subbed on with just four minutes to go against the Czech Republic, the assured Paris Saint-Germain powerhouse will be used by Prandelli as a utility player and is SAFE (as long as he can retain his starting place in PSG's midfield). Born in Brazil, the former Inter man will be raring to showcase his talents for his adopted country.
Claudio Marchisio: Completing the triumvirate of Italian midfielders to feature in all six of Italy's games at Euro 2012 (alongside De Rossi and Pirlo), the 27-year-old is now entering his peak years and provides a great foil to his more illustrious midfield partners. Playing in all five of this summer's Confederation Cup games, the Juve man is SAFE.
Andrea Pirlo: With a passing vision which can penetrate any defence and an ability to seemingly reject the concept of ageing, the consummate professional looks SAFE and will be one of Prandelli's main lieutenants on the field.
Alessandro Diamanti: Wearing the No. 23 shirt on Tuesday evening, Diamanti is technically the last player to be named in the squad. That speaks volumes: Prandelli favours the options he provides (crafty, powerful, rangy) so he should be SAFE, but Alessandro Florenzi is a more youthful option, especially as he gets more game time at Roma.
Antonio Nocerino: Starting 20 games, the former Juve man had a strong season for AC Milan last season, helping the Rossoneri achieve third place. However, Prandelli appears to deem him OUT as Florenzi, Verratti and Antonio Candreva have impressed.
Emanuele Giaccherini: The Sunderland man is an interesting one—after excelling for the Azzurri at the Confederations Cup in the summer, it was unforeseen that he would leave Italian champions Juventus and instead move to the Premier League and a team who look set for a relegation battle in it. Despite starting only 17 games last season, Prandelli continues to select the diminutive string-puller. He should be SAFE for the guile he offers, but a lot depends on how his club performs.
Daniele De Rossi: Loyal, dedicated, committed, passionate—the epithets to describe the Roma man are endless. After turning down a late chance to join Manchester United, as the Daily Express reported, he looks set to be a one-team man for the duration of his career, and he transfers that loyalty to the national team. SAFE. It is an added bonus that, taking into account friendlies to be played before then, he may well win his 100th cap at next year's finals.
Riccardo Montolivo: Started in Italy on Tuesday night for the joyous qualifier and, having started 31 games for AC Milan last season, is also a regular for his club. Despite being hauled off with four minutes remaining, Italy's No. 18 is SAFE. He has a good understanding with De Rossi and is instrumental at not only bringing others into play but also at covering his defence.
Mario Balotelli: What is there to say about Super Mario which has not already been decreed? With his notorious antics having calmed since his January move to AC Milan, he finally looks like displaying the talent that has been bubbling away for so long. A proud Italian, he scored the winning penalty against the Czech Republic on Tuesday night to bag his third goal in three games for club and country. With a reputation to match his ability, that was his 11th goal on the night he won his 26th cap. SAFE (barring an off-pitch capitulation).
Antonio Cassano: Now at Parma (his third team in as many seasons) the 31-year-old is an unknown quantity. Has not appeared for the national team since that fateful defeat to Spain at the Euro 2012 final, but a strong season may see him return to the fold. He appears to be OUT however. Sampdoria's Manolo Gabbiadini and Napoli's Lorenzo Insigne have been capped in his stead, with the latter already off the mark with one goal in his three appearances.
Antonio Di Natale: Turning 36 in October and renowned as one of the game's good guys, it is undeniably upsetting that we must face up the fact that the perennial talisman of Udinese—who has scored in excess of 20 goals consistently for the last four seasons—is OUT. Now is the time for AC Milan's Stephan El Shaarawy and Southamption's Dani Osvaldo to take his place.
Fabio Borini: Despite being highly regarded in his homeland, Borini's fortunes have been ominously in decline after an ill-fated move to the EPL with Liverpool. Following a torrid time with injuries, his supposedly fruitful reunion with Brendan Rodgers saw him make just five starts. Now on loan at Sunderland, the former Parma and Roma striker is keen to succeed: Under the tutelage of indefatigable countryman Paolo Di Canio, he should get a sustained run in the side. However, Osvaldo and El Shaarawy are also club regulars, with the latter getting the chance to play at a higher level in the Champions League. For that reason, OUT.
Sebastian Giovinco: Seven goals in 23 starts for Juventus last season (an average of just under one in three) is a great ratio, especially when you're playing for your boyhood team who re-signed you two years after deeming you insufficient. However, it would appear he is OUT as Prandelli struggles to find room for the 26-year-old in his squad. Replaced for this round of qualifiers by the 31-year-old Alberto Gilardino (he who, now at Genoa, had disappeared into obscurity three seasons ago after a move to Fiorentina saw his form plummet), it looks as if Giovinco will have to hope he can obtain a starting berth in the Juve team. With Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente ahead of him in the pecking order, that looks unlikely.
What are your thoughts? Should Italy be considered as favourites for next year's competition? Which players deserve to go and who will be watching from the comfort of their own home? And who has the early potential to be a star? Let me know either in the comments section below or via Twitter: @LeRowley