Italy will head to Brazil with hopes of tying the host nation for the most World Cup titles in history. The Azzurri have won the marquee international tournament four times. The most recent triumph came two cycles ago in 2006.
If the Italians do make another deep run they will have certainly earned it. Advancing from Group D is no gimme with England and Uruguay also strong contenders to move on. Anything less than top form during the group stage means the Azzurri will likely suffer an early exit.
Let's check out the complete roster Italy have selected to make the journey to the World Cup. It's followed by a prediction for the starting lineup and a look at some of the decisions Cesare Prandelli will have to make before the team's opening fixture.
Full 30-Man Provisional Roster
|DF||Ignazio Abate||AC Milan|
|DF||Mattia De Sciglio||AC Milan|
|DF||Andrea Ranocchia||Inter Milan|
|MF||Daniele de Rossi||Roma|
|MF||Riccardo Montolivo||AC Milan|
|FW||Mario Balotelli||AC Milan|
Starting 11 Projections
|LB||Mattia De Sciglio|
|MF||Daniele De Rossi|
Prandelli holds a realistic view of his side. Nadia Carminati of Sky Sports passed along comments from the head coach and he stated while Italy are not currently viewed as a favorite, they are still capable of knocking off top opponents:
Brazil, Argentina, Germany and Spain are the favourites. Let's leave from our mind that we are the strongest; we aren't.
We are no more the best but we can beat the best.
The manager's first choice should probably be a simple one as Gianluigi Buffon maintains his spot in the starting lineup for yet another World Cup. The veteran goalkeeper continues to play at a high level after turning 36 in January.
Assuming Italy go with four at the back, the full-back positions should be filled by Ignazio Abate and Mattia De Sciglio. Both have the quickness and distribution ability to move forward to help the attack, which will be essential to the team's success.
How far will Italy advance in the World Cup?
Andrea Barzagli should assume one of the central roles. The other will likely come down to one of his Juventus teammates, either Leonardo Bonucci or Giorgio Chiellini. Both have enjoyed solid campaigns, so it's basically a toss-up.
Italy have a lot of options in the midfield, which is a key reason why they have used a 3-5-2 formation at times during the cycle. It allows Prandelli to utilize all of those weapons and he can move players around to switch between an offensive and defensive approach.
Alas, the results were mixed, which is why a return to a more traditional 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 for the World Cup could also be in the cards.
Ultimately, regardless of the formation the Azzurri employ throughout the tournament, the midfield is going to play a vital role in their success. Matt Jones of Goal.com provided remarks Riccardo Montolivo made to an Italian magazine, in which he stated it's the best midfield group in the world:
I think the our midfield is the one with most quality in the world.
There are world-class players: Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio, Thiago Motta, Daniele De Rossi, Antonio Candreva. And then there's me.
Montolivo seems like a good bet to start alongside fellow veterans Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi. It's an experienced group, which is exactly what Italy will need in a tough group.
Up front, the extremely talented and wildly inconsistent Mario Balotelli is likely to get joined by Giuseppe Rossi or Alessio Cerci. Stephan El Shaarawy is also a starting candidate if he can get back to full strength before the World Cup.
Looking ahead, if Balotelli can shine like he's certainly capable of starting in the group stage, then that's when Italy becomes a major threat. The team needs somebody to step up to lead the attack and he's the most likely player to make big things happen in the final third.
The Azzurri are not among the top group of contenders heading into the tournament. Part of that is due to the tough group they need to navigate. If they do advance to the knockout stages, however, they have enough talent to make some serious noise.