Italy coach Marcelo Lippi announced his 30-man squad for the World Cup on Tuesday. Only ten players were nominated who were on the championship team in Germany four years ago. Nevertheless, a new team is tasked with ensuring old success. Will Italy be the first team since Brazil to win World Cups back to back?
The current team will be reduced by seven players by June 1, the date all participating countries must submit their final squads to FIFA. While there were few surprises in Lippi's nominations, some 2006 stars were not considered for the squad.
Check out the roster on the following slides!
No surprise in goal. Gianluigi Buffon, despite facing several injuries during the past season at Juventus, is the starting goalkeeper for the Squadra Azzurra. He has won four of the last seven 'world goalkeeper of the year' awards and was a key contributor in Italy's 2006 World Cup success.
Back-ups in goal are Federico Marchetti (Cagliari), Morgan De Sanctis (Napoli), and Salvatore Sirigu (Palermo), one of whom will be cut by the June 1 deadline.
If history teaches us anything, it is that Italy will not have problems in goal. Even if Italy had to compensate an injury to the experienced Buffon (100 caps, his fourth World Cup tournament), the Squadra Azzurra never fail to impress defensively.
Marcelo Lippi nominated only four defenders from the World Cup team four years ago. The presumed starters--Fabio Cannavaro and Giorgio Chiellini as halfbacks, and Gianluca Zambrotta (Milan) and Fabio Grosso as fullbacks--have played together since 2004. Moreover, despite Juventus' poor showing this past season, Cannavaro, Chiellini and Grosso benefit from playing together domestically, too.
But how much depth is there on the bench? Salvatore Bocchetti (Genoa), Leonardo Bonucci (Bari), Mattia Cassani (Palermo), Domenico Criscito (Genoa), and Christian Maggio (Napoli) are all new to the team, with only 14 caps between them. Make no mistake: if Italy must rely on its bench, the lack of experience on the world stage might become a factor.
While Italy's defense is the envy of most of the world, its midfield plays as a big role in shutting down opponents as its defenders. The cohesive manner in which Gattuso, de Rossi & Co. operate, disallowing opponents any space for creativity, never ceases to astound pundits.
While Gattuso (Milan) and de Rossi (Roma) will certainly play an important role in South Africa, one must not also forget the offensive potential of the squad. Led by Andrea Pirlo (Milan) and Mauro Camoranesi (Juventus), Italy lacks no creativity in moving the ball forwards. Certainly, Claudio Marchisio (Juventus) and Riccardo Montolivo (Fiorientina) may contribute in this department as well.
Antonio Candreva (Juventus), Andrea Cossu (Cagliari), Angelo Palombo (Sampdoria), and Simone Pepe (Udinese) round out a midfield of formidable force.
On offense, there is a new sheriff in town. Antonio Di Natale (Udinese), who has spent much of his career in Italian dress coming off the bench, has taken the Serie A by storm this past year. With 28 goals in 34 domestic play matches, he is a force to be reckoned with in South Africa.
In addition, Fabio Quagliarella (Napoli), Marco Boriello (Milan), Giampaolo Pazzini (Sampdoria), and Giuseppe Rossi (Villareal) have been called up by Lippi, all without previous World Cup nominations. Especially Pazzini and Rossi (23 and 25 years old, respectively) bring about a generational shift in the Squadra Azzurra, replacing oldies Luca Toni and Francesco Totti.
But there remains some consistency on offense, too. Alberto Gilardino (Fiorientina) and Vicenzo Iaquinta (Juventus) were on Lippi's championship team four years ago. Neither played an outstanding season for their club team, and the competition for the final squad will remain fierce.
Four noticeable figures will not be representing the Azzurri this summer--players that had legitimate hopes of making the team.
Luca Toni and Francesco Totti have played a stunning second half of the season, catapulting Roma into Champions League play next season. Toni, who had injury problems early in the season and never got along with Louis van Gaal at Bayern, has returned to old strength back in his homeland.
Totti, who had annouced his retirement after the last World Cup, had reconsidered a return to the national team. But last week's red card in the final of the Copa Italia, in which he intentionally kicked an opponent, and the allegations of racism leveled against him certainly ended any dream of a comeback.
Alberto Aquilani will also have to follow the tournament off the pitch. Despite valiant efforts for a struggling Liverpool side and reaching the semifinals of the Europa League, he was not considered by Lippi.
Finally, Nicola Legrottaglie will not be joining the team, in spite of Lippi's Juventus bias. For the 33-year old, this means the de facto end to his international career.