Only Brazil (five) have won more World Cup titles than Italy (four), and the Italians will be looking to even things up in Brazil in 2014. Looking over the roster, it appears they have the talent to make a deep run in this year's tournament.
But how will all the pieces fit together? What will be the starting XI? What formation will the team play?
For some nations, the answers to those questions are pretty simple, as the level of talent dictates a pretty consistent starting XI. But for Italy, a team brimming with depth and tactical adaptability, things are a little more complex.
At least against England, we know how they'll line up, per Bleacher Report UK:
With that in mind, let's take a closer look at the team's roster and starting XI and also break down how Italy might approach this tournament from a strategic standpoint.
|DF||Mattia De Sciglio||Milan|
|MF||Daniele De Rossi||Roma|
|CDM||Daniele De Rossi|
If there is one thing you can expect from the Italians, it is flexibility. This isn't a team constrained to a rigid system. Rather, the Italians will likely alter their approach, formation and even their lineup depending on the opposition.
Current coach Cesare Prandelli has been preparing his squad to have a number of their own ahead of this summer. Italy distinguished themselves by alternating the Juventus 3-5-2 with 4-3-1-2 en route to the final at Euro 2012. They experimented with other systems last summer too.
"A year ago at the Confederations Cup we often changed our play and surprised everyone a little," Prandelli told La Gazzetta dello Sport. "Being able to change becomes a resource. For this reason we will work on two or three formations." This will of course depend on how Italy’s opponents line up. If for example they play two-up front, he will use a back-three. Alternatively if they go with a lone striker, he will adopt a back-four.
In other words, the starting lineup you see now might be the only time this collection of players, in this formation, features at this year's World Cup. We could see a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 from the Italians or even three in the back. We could see nearly every player on this roster make an appearance. Tactically, they will not be an easy team to pin down.
That isn't to say there won't be a few certainties in the starting group, though.
Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli will feature in defense. Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi will be present in the midfield. Those players—who often make up the spine of Italy, literally and figuratively—are automatic fixtures, one would guess.
After that, however, the players that will feature and the positions they will take seem rather fluid.
If Mario Balotelli keeps his composure and is the dynamic player he is capable of being, it's unlikely he'll lose his starting gig. And Claudio Marchisio offers the team a lot of versatility and can fit in just about any scheme, so he'll likely be a regular fixture as well. Marco Verratti's presence alongside Pirlo might surprise some—they offer similarities on the pitch—but he really impressed in the friendly against Ireland.
Antonio Candreva's appearance in the starting XI might surprise some as well, but he should offer dangerous runs behind Balotelli and will find a lot of space to work with in front of the midfield if he remains in a centre-forward role.
After that, Italy will be fluid, but few teams have their depth, so they can afford to be versatile. If the Italians choose to play wide in the attack throughout the tournament, Alessio Cerci is an excellent choices, though Antonio Cassano and Lorenzo Insigne also make sense in a 4-3-3.
If they play with two up top, Ciro Immobile seems likely to pair with Balotelli in Brazil.
Uruguay, England and Costa Rica have the unenviable task of trying to predict how Italy will line up and attack them. They have to face an Italian side with immense depth, with experienced leaders like Buffon and Pirlo and with explosive talents like Balotelli.
The Italians aren't one of the main favorites in Brazil, but they are more than capable of replicating their 2006 triumph. If Prandelli pushes all the right buttons, they might just pull off the feat.