Italy World Cup 2014: Team Guide for FIFA Tournament
The players on the 30-man roster evaluated by coach Cesare Prandelli are now training outside of Florence. He told reporters, via Joe Bernstein of The Daily Mail, that he is in no rush to whittle down the squad to the necessary 23, waiting "right up until the deadline of June 2 if I have to."
Several players in this squad are new to the international scene. Some have never played for Italy before at the senior level. Giuseppe Rossi has never played in a World Cup. Neither has Antonio Cassano. And Mario Balotelli is the big question.
Italy are not the favourites, and that's when they are most dangerous.
"We are not the best," Prandelli said in an interview with the BBC, "but we can beat the best if we play at our best."
In the 2010 World Cup, Italy had to face Paraguay, Slovakia and New Zealand. Italy finished dead last. This time it's different: Uruguay, England and Costa Rica all await.
Prandelli told the BBC:
We know we have a tough group and that we have to be ready for it. Italy normally have the opposite problem. When we play in an easier group, we think we've already won the World Cup and then we have huge difficulties. The Italians are more united in tough times, and when we are united we can achieve important results.
Let's take a closer look at this crazy team.
Road to the Finals
For the first time in their history, Italy qualified for the World Cup with two games remaining. They narrowly defeated Czech Republic 2-1 with goals from Giorgio Chiellini and Balotelli at Juventus Stadium in September.
But they were largely unimpressive throughout the qualifying campaign. Their biggest win was a 3-1 result over Denmark. They struggled to score goals in one of the easier groups in the UEFA region. There were disappointing draws with Bulgaria and the Czechs.
Yet, they did not lose a single game, one of just seven teams in Europe to go undefeated.
In the Confederations Cup, Italy went a bit ballistic, scoring lots and conceding just as many. The game against Japan was a perfect reminder that Italy can play an open game—that it is not all about defending.
Defenders: Ignazio Abate (AC Milan), Andrea Barzagli (Juventus), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Matteo Darmian (Torino), Mattia De Sciglio (AC Milan), Christian Maggio (Napoli), Gabriel Paletta (Parma), Manuel Pasqual (Fiorentina), Andrea Ranocchia (Inter Milan)
Midfielders: Alberto Aquilani (Fiorentina), Antonio Candreva (Lazio), Daniele De Rossi (Roma), Claudio Marchisio (Juventus), Riccardo Montolivo (AC Milan), Thiago Motta (PSG), Marco Parolo (Parma), Andrea Pirlo (Juventus), Romulo (Verona), Marco Verratti (PSG)
Forwards: Mario Balotelli (AC Milan), Antonio Cassano (Parma), Alessio Cerci (Torino), Mattia Destro (Roma), Ciro Immobile (Torino), Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli), Giuseppe Rossi (Fiorentina)
Prandelli still hasn't signed that contract renewal, but it is historic that he even has the chance. No Italy manager has ever received an extension before the start of the World Cup. It is a sign that the Italian football federation wants to achieve results in the long term. They believe in his vision.
Prandelli has made a conscientious choice to bring up younger players. He has given some their first cap, and he has re-established trust in players like Antonio Cassano and Balotelli—tough to manage and unpredictable.
This is his final tournament. Andrea Pirlo has already revealed that he will retire from international football following the World Cup. He just turned 35, and yet, he is the protagonist, not just a leader.
It is no coincidence that Italy failed to do much in the 2010 World Cup without Pirlo. He was injured, and apart from a short cameo, Pirlo did not feature much at all. Pirlo has made 108 appearances with Italy, more than any midfielder for the country, but he hasn't been influential in a World Cup since 2006.
1 to Watch
Balotelli loves playing for Italy. Maybe it's the attention: He gets so much praise when he performs. He has scored 22 goals in 29 appearances for Italy.
But he is not just a striker. He's a symbol of change, and many in Italy don't like him for that. On Wednesday, Balotelli again suffered racist abuse at Coverciano, per La Gazzetta dello Sport (h/t Football Italia). But there were also kids there cheering for him. The youth identify with Balotelli, no matter what team those kids support.
His biggest goals came in the game against Germany. That's when everyone loved him. Those goals were "a sign that black Italians are here to stay," wrote John Foot in The Guardian. "Mario Balotelli encapsulates the stark reality of a multicultural society. Immigrants are usually seen as OK as long as they are invisible."
Balotelli carries a lot of hope, and he could make a lot more noise than people like.
World Cup Record
Italy has won the World Cup four times, only trailing Brazil (with five). They are traditionally better off as the forgotten man, playing in the shadows of the favourites.
In the 2006 World Cup, Italy did not allow a single goal from open play, and in the 1982 World Cup, Paolo Rossi was the unexpected top scorer in the tournament. He was almost left off that squad.
Italy do things when it's least expected. Of course, they suffered some huge upsets, losing to North Korea in 1966 and later losing to South Korea in the 2002 World Cup. Even New Zealand finished ahead of Italy in their group in 2010.
There are still some constants: Buffon is back to play in the World Cup after suffering an injury in South Africa. He has played 139 times for Italy, more than any other countryman.
England vs. Italy
June 14, 6 p.m. local time at Arena Amazonia
Italy vs. Costa Rica
June 20, 1 p.m. local time at Arena Pernambuco
Italy vs. Uruguay
June 24, 1 p.m. local time at Estadio das Dunas