FIFA World Cup 2010: Italy Must Look to Germany to Rebuild for the Future

Mary O'SheaSenior Writer IJune 24, 2010

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 24:  Fabio Cannavaro, captain of Italy, leaves the field dejected after being knocked out of the competition by Slovakia during the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Group F match between Slovakia and Italy at Ellis Park Stadium on June 24, 2010 in Johannesburg, South Africa.  (Photo by Christof Koepsel/Getty Images)
Christof Koepsel/Getty Images

It may have taken some time, but the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa has finally sparked to life.

As the last round of group games are completed, we have already witnessed some big names fall while lesser lights have lived to fight another day.

Today saw current world champions Italy exit the competition and in doing so, make some unwanted history alongside France, as the two nations became the first finalists from the previous World Cup to exit at the first hurdle of the following one.

To add insult to injury, the Italians also finished bottom of their qualifying group for the first time in their history.

Group F pitted Marcello Lippi's men against Paraguay, Slovakia, and footballing minnows New Zealand.

The European side are renowned for starting slowly and just doing enough to progress past the group stage, but this time they left it until the last 15 minutes of their encounter with Slovakia when they were down 2-0. They lost 3-2. Too little, too late.

Even more surprisingly, they failed to win a game. Coupled with their loss to Slovakia, they drew with Paraguay and New Zealand.

Speaking on Irish television channel RTE, pundit Eamon Dunphy has argued since the qualifying stages that this is the worst Italian side in living memory.

While this is a little harsh, he does have a point.

The Italians are an aging side, devoid of ideas and any sense of urgency. Unlike sides who may have a strong defence but lack a forward, or who have a good striker but no one in the middle to create, Italy have problems right through the field.

The Azzurri lost super keeper Gigi Buffon to injury in the opening game. His replacement, Federico Marchetti of Cagliari, often looked like a deer caught in the headlights today, and his position was way off for the Slovakians' third and crucial goal.

Making only your seventh appearance in a crucial World Cup tie is never ideal, but nations with the aspirations of Italy need players to have the mental strength to come straight into the side when needed.

Finding a replacement for Buffon will not be easy. If only replacing Buffon was their single problem.

For too long now, Italy have relied on their old heads. At this World Cup, it was a bad decision, as the likes of Fabio Cannavaro and Gennaro Gattuso were unable to keep up with the pace.

When the going got really tough, Lippi felt there was no other option but to look to the unfit Andrea Pirlo.

All the above-mentioned players are coming to the end of their playing careers, never mind their international ones.

Following their exit, Lippi said he did not expect to win the World Cup but also did not expect Italy to be so bad.

While hindsight may count for a lot, many would argue that he should have seen this coming. They struggled to qualify from a weak group and in a friendly prior to the World Cup were given a real scare by New Zealand.

This downturn in fortune didn't occur overnight. It pretty much started after the success in Germany in 2006.

The question must be asked: Why didn't Italy accept reality—that, at the moment, they just don't have the squad to compete for the major honour—and instead build for the next tournament (Euro) in two year's time?

Yes, they are a proud nation, but so too are the Germans.

While Italy went into the tournament with unrealistic expectations, hanging their hopes on old bodies, German manager Joachim Loew took the brave step of leaving out the old soldiers in favour of building for the future.

The Germans had no expectations of their young side going to South Africa. And this has benefited Loew's charges.

They are playing with a freedom that belies their national stereotype. Loew was called foolish for leaving battle horse Torsten Frings out of his 23-man squad.

Three games in, his name isn't even muttered anymore as Bayern Munich's Bastian Schweinsteiger has proven himself a leader in the center of the field. He also has a far more creative edge to his game than his comrade on holidays. 

Although not by choice, the absence of Michael Ballack has seen Mesut Oezil and Sami Khedira shine in midfield. 

In these three, Germany already have a fantastic midfield unit who play off each other nicely. Schweinsteiger is 25, while Khedira is 23, and Oezil is even younger at 21.

The German midfield work hard for each other while also being adept at going forward, a far cry from the tired, unimaginative midfield which took to the field for Italy today.

Marcello Lippi argued that he took the best 23 with him to South Africa. Giuseppe Rossi argues otherwise.

If this is the best Italy have, then they must be worried for the future, for it may be a very bleak one.

However, someone more cynical of the esteemed Italian coach would argue that the talent is there, it's just not being used in favour of sticking with the reliables.

Sadly for Italy, the reliables are no longer so, but that is the way of football or any sport.

For the sake of the Italian game, they must let those whose bodies can no longer hack it at the top level retire (or in Fring's case, force it) in favour of blooding in the future generation.

Joachim Loew was brave enough to do so, and his young side have at least a few more days in South Africa after topping a far superior group to Italy's.

For the sake of a proud nation, the Italian Football Federation must look to the Fatherland's model for the future.