Updates from Tuesday, June 3
Cesare Prandelli spoke about the decision to leave Giuseppe Rossi off of Italy's 23-man World Cup roster, touching on the striker's health as a factor in the choice (via Football Italia):
“I told him that it was a difficult decision because he’s an amazing guy,” the tactician told a Press conference.
“I repeated that several times – Beppe, you’re not in the 23. He’s always worked well with enthusiasm and desire.
“Prior to the match against Ireland I said that from a physical point of view he was fine, but I wanted to see something more from him.
“I wanted to see a striker that was playing as a striker. But I did not see what I wanted to see.
“The risk was too great. The easy thing to do was to call him up – you’d have all been happy.
“But I did not expect the reaction he gave [on Twitter]. The time required for a proper recovery just wasn’t enough.”
James Horncastle of BT Sport backed up that sentiment, speaking on what it would have been like had Rossi been injured in Brazil:
Painful not to grant Rossi his World Cup dream. More painful perhaps were he to then relapse a 2nd time because he rushed back for you.— James Horncastle (@JamesHorncastle) June 3, 2014
The World Cup draw certainly didn't do Italy any favors. Cesare Prandelli's squad will have virtually no margin for error in the group stage, and the high-pressure matches start right away with a clash against England to open play in Group D.
As usual, Prandelli had plenty of players to choose from before cutting the squad down to the final 23. Just about every player on the provisional 30-man roster could have made a strong case as to why they should stay, but seven had to go before heading to Brazil.
Those that did make the cut should understand they need to showcase top form right away. The Azzurri won't have time to wait for players to find their game. With that in mind, let's check out Italy's final World Cup roster, along with a lineup projection and tournament outlook.
Italy's World Cup Roster
|DF||Mattia De Sciglio||Milan|
|MF||Daniele De Rossi||Roma|
Starting XI Projection
|LB||Mattia De Sciglio|
|MF||Daniele De Rossi|
Projection; 4-3-3 Formation
World Cup Outlook
Along with England, Italy is also joined by Uruguay and Costa Rica. While that would make it seem like a three-team race for two spots in the knockout stages, the fourth team (Costa Rica) always seems to play the role of spoiler at some point during group play.
ESPN Stats and Info rated it as the World Cup's toughest group:
Toughest World Cup group? The Soccer Power Index points to Group D, which has the highest average SPI rank at 14.0.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 6, 2013
The Azzurri are good enough to make a run to the business end of the tournament. Yet, they must be careful because an early exit could also be in the cards. The result is perhaps the widest range of potential outcomes of any team in the tournament.
Prandelli is holding an upbeat view of the squad's chances. Neil McLeman of the Daily Mirror passed along comments from the manager, who's already looking forward to the final:
I am not looking at the group table, I know that we have to progress into the knockout stages and we have to organise how to get to the final.
I want to get to the final, then, we will see what happens.
Generally, a coaching staff tends to take more of a match-by-match approach to a major event like the World Cup. But it's clear Italy is thinking big heading into play in Brazil even though it isn't viewed as one of the main contenders.
There are two areas where Italy can feel confident in its ability to match up with any national team in the world. The first spot is in goal, where Gianluigi Buffon continues to play at a very high level. Then there's the midfield, where the side features plenty of big-game international experience.
Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi headline the group. They have over 200 appearances with the national team and are going to provide much-needed stability in the middle of the pitch. Either Riccardo Montolivo or Claudio Marchisio will join them to form a terrific trio.
Though there aren't many question marks at the back in terms of who will start, the concern is whether not the group will be up to the task against elite attacks. A few times during the qualifying campaign there were mistakes that would cost a team dearly in the World Cup.
The back line, which is likely to be led by Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini, doesn't need to be the best in the tournament. Instead, it simply must remain reliable and avoid the key errors that can change the entire course of a match.
Then there are the forwards. The projection is for a 4-3-3 formation, but it could easily turn into a 4-3-1-2, with one attacker dropping behind the front two. Either way, the onus will be on Mario Balotelli to lead the offensive charge.
How far will Italy go at the World Cup?
And that, in large part, is why there's such a wide range of potential outcomes for Italy. It's always difficult to predict which version of Balotelli will show up—the dynamic attacking option or the forward who struggles to become fully engaged in a match?
If he plays up to his full potential throughout the tournament, Italy has a realistic shot of reaching Prandelli's championship-match goal. If not, it will be a struggle for the Azzurri to make any type of long run. Balotelli holds the key.
Ultimately, Italy probably hasn't received enough credit or attention leading up to this year's edition of the World Cup. It might not be one of the top choices, but there's certainly enough talent on the roster to win the title if everything falls into place perfectly.
The first step is coming out strong in group play. If the Azzurri can score three quick points against England, their chances of advancing will skyrocket and the hype will start to build.
As for now, Prandelli's expectations clearly remain high. It won't take long to find out if his optimism was warranted.