World Cup 2010: Andrea Pirlo Injury Casts Doubts over Italia

Debora RubiContributor IJune 8, 2010

TURIN, ITALY - MAY 29:  Andrea Pirlo of Italy during the Training Session on May 29, 2010 in Sestriere near Turin, Italy.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
Claudio Villa/Getty Images

Italy's already aging squad, the oldest in the tournament, now faces a greater challenge to their World Cup run after midfielder Andrea Pirlo suffered a calf injury in a friendly against Mexico.

The injury will probably make Pirlo miss the first two fixtures of the World Cup as calf injuries take 15-20 days to heal.

The difficulty of Italy's games decrease significantly as the group play progresses so that Pirlo's return may be too late for the Azzurri.

Group Play

The Italian team will open up the World Cup with their most difficult game against Paraguay, the second team expected to qualify from Italy's weak group.

Pirlo is unlikely to play the second game against Slovakia, a weaker still dangerous team that could pose a threat to the depleted team.

The final game that Pirlo will most likely play, is against New Zealand. New Zealand is the weakest team in the tournament after the host South Africa.

Italy, which has not played many matches leading up to the cup, is already lacking in chemistry. They were slow and uncoordinated in their loss to Mexico 2-1. 

The injury to a crucial midfielder could hurt the little balance the team has found on the pitch.

Aging Stars

Italy has the oldest average age on the roster going into the World Cup. The situation wasn't helped by Marcello Lippi's decision to keep Giuseppe Rossi off the final roster.

The older age of the players (most remnants of the 2006 World Champions) not only slows them down but makes recovery from injury harder.

This seems to be a risk Lippi was willing to take, exchanging longevity for urgency.

Andrea Pirlo, 31, will not have the recovery time that a player in his early 20's would so that his return before the New Zealand game seems unlikely. 

Pirlo was instrumental in the Italians' run in 2006 as the teams free kick specialist and an important part along with Gennaro Gattuso to recovery and control within midfield play.

Heart of Champions

It's impossible to discard the champions before the cup even begins, especially when they have many of the same players.

That stability in team and formation (threatened now by injuries to Pirlo and Camoranesi) will allow the Italians to focus on their defensive game plan.

Four years, however, is a long time in football years, and the rest of the world is now more than familiar with the Italian's style of play.

The Italians run in 2006 wasn't a dominant spectacle. They got by on grit, luck, and some very questionable calls.

The Italians already got lucky this year with an easy draw that they will likely escape despite Pirlo's injury, but facing probably either England or the United States in Round 16 will prove much harder.

That perfect storm of 2006 is unlikely to repeat for the Azzuri.