5 Most Important Players for Italy at the 2014 World Cup
The Italian national team will kick off their 2014 World Cup against England in Manaus, and it'll be imperative to get off to a good start for a squad that is notoriously groggy at the beginning of major tournaments.
Coach Cesare Prandelli is still actively scouting around Italy at various stadiums to find potential new recruits for the Azzurri.
However, it's widely expected that he knows who his main starting XI will be.
Here are the five most important players whose success will dictate how far the Italian national team goes.
Why always me?
Mario Balotelli is the single most important player for the Italian national team. Yes, it was hard leaving out Giuseppe Rossi from this list, even though he is currently the Serie A top scorer despite going down with another injury.
Balotelli is not only one of the most polarizing players in the world, but also one of the most marketable. All eyes will be on him at the 2014 World Cup whenever the Italian national team suits up.
His strike rate in the World Cup qualifier was fantastic, as he managed to find the back of the net five times in five appearances.
Italy will need Super Mario at his very best, and perhaps this can be the real point in his career when he moves up a gear into true superstardom.
Andrea Pirlo will be 35 years old when the 2014 World Cup rears its beautiful head, and it's quite obvious that this will be his last major competition with an Azzurri team that he has been such an integral part of for a decade.
He led Italy's midfield in the 2006 World Cup winning year and still has enough left in the tank to give a few scintillating performances in front of the defense.
Pace has never been a part of his game, so the rise in age isn't as felt as someone like Kaka. Pirlo still has the ingenious craft to wriggle his way around a defender, using a series of head fakes and feints to create just enough space to send a perfect pass downfield.
Also, the last time he played England was probably one of his most memorable games for the Azzurri.
The eternal Gianluigi Buffon will once again be the goalkeeper in between the pipes for the Azzurri. Cesare Prandelli simply can't entrust this position to anyone else but one of the most iconic players in his position.
Remember as being one of the reasons Italy won the 2006 World Cup, Buffon looks to go into the latter stages of his career with another massive trophy to add to his already prolific collection.
There is probably no one better or more experienced than him in a situation like the World Cup, and the defense can play more relaxed knowing they have an octopus behind them protecting the goal.
Daniele De Rossi
The anchor and heart of Italy's midfield does the dirty work of Gennaro Gattuso with some of the passing flair you'd normally see from Andrea Pirlo.
For this reason, he is one of the most sought-after midfielders who is a true box-to-box presence for the Azzurri and one of Cesare Prandelli's favorite players.
De Rossi has plenty of experience, having already played in two World Cups and many other European fixtures. Alongside Pirlo and Marchisio, Italy can boast one of the most versatile midfield units in the competition.
De Rossi is also good in the air and is a natural leader who can intimidate an opponent as well.
Barzagli will have to be a wall for Italy at the 2014 World Cup, as he's going into it as arguably the finest defender in the peninsula.
The Juventus center back will most likely pair with a few of his domestic teammates at the back, so he'll know how the system works even though Prandelli is veering from the Juventus-esque 3-5-2 and going with a more continental 4-3-3 formation.
This will most likely be the last competition for the 32-year-old Barzagli, and he'll look to get into the twilight of his career on a positive note.