Robert Cianflone/Getty Images
Giorgio Chiellini will again be the backbone of Italy's defense.
The days of "catenaccio" are long past—especially since Cesare Prandelli took over—but defense is still the calling card of Italian soccer. That should still ring true given the depth of defensive talent at Prandelli's fingertips as we approach the Cup.
Juventus' trio of excellent center backs—Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli—are likely locks. Their presence gives the team outstanding depth in a four-man defense and brings invaluable experience in a three-man defense—a wrinkle that has served Italy well against Spain in the past and likely will again.
Bonucci has made improvements in his defensive game this year and for several years has been arguably the best ball-playing center back in the world. His passing skills will be invaluable if an opponent is able to clamp down on Andea Pirlo in midfield.
Barzagli has spent much of the last two months out injured, but that may be a blessing in disguise. He has shown his 33 years recently, and though his technique can make up for lost pace it won't hurt that he'll be coming into the World Cup relatively fresh.
Chiellini has had some bad luck internationally, but his bruising style carries on the legacy of men like Claudio Gentile. He will also be keen to atone for the misplay that led to Slovakia's fateful third goal in last year's group stage.
Prandelli usually carries a fourth center-back, although the men he's carried into previous competitions (Angelo Obgonna in Euro 2012, Davide Astori at the Confederations Cup) are absent from this roster.
There are two options: Gabriel Paletta and Andrea Ranocchia. Ranocchia improved toward the end of this season, although he endured a long period on the bench in the middle of Inter's season. Paletta, meanwhile, was a revelation this season at Parma and earned his first international cap in February's friendly against Spain. He had the better season of the two. Unless Ranocchia truly shows something in camp, the Argentine-born defender will be headed to Brazil.
Picking full-backs for this team can be tricky. The mortal lock in this regard is Ignazio Abate, who will almost certainly be the starter at right-back. Left-back was manned through most of the Confederations Cup by his AC Milan teammate, Mattia De Sciglio, whose inclusion was something of a surprise considering he spent much of the season injured. He may not start, but his versatility and pinpoint crossing ability would be nice assets.
Whoever plays left-back will be vastly inexperienced on the international stage. Apart from De Sciglio, the options are Torino's Matteo Darmian and Fiorentina's Manuel Pasqual.
Carrying Pasqual has the added bonus of adding another set-piece threat to the squad, but unless Andrea Pirlo is off the field that won't make much difference. That said, Pasqual plays more frequently on the left—in fact he is really the only player on the provisional roster whose primary position is left-back. By virtue of that, he's almost certainly on the team.
Unfortunately for Darmian, if I were to be picking this team he'd be the victim of a strategy move. As previously said, three-man defensive systems have proved incredibly effective for Italy against Spain in the last few years. Such systems require wing-backs—a position that Napoli's Christian Maggio mastered under Walter Mazzarri at Napoli.
He's not very effective as a conventional right-back and is only just coming back from a long-term injury, but if all goes to best-case scenario for Italy they will likely be staring down Vicente del Bosque's men in the quarterfinals—and in that matchup Maggio's talents would be invaluable.
Is it foolish to include a player for the sole purpose of playing in one matchup that's not even guaranteed to happen? Maybe. But against Spain every little edge counts. Maggio should be on the plane.
On the Plane: Chiellini, Barzagli, Bonucci, Paletta, Abate, De Sciglio, Pascual, Maggio