Italy’s exit from the 2010 World Cup was expected before the tournament final, but it certainly was not expected to end during the group stage.
For the first time since 1974, the Azzurri failed to reach the playoff rounds.
With a history of slow starts and difficulty getting motivated for matches against teams it feels are far inferior. Italy paid the price for not playing at its top level. Some claim being an older team played a role, but that was not the major reason for the early departure from South Africa.
Italy did not look well from the minute coach Marcello Lippi released his roster June 1. Known for their strong defense, Italy’s top defender of the past decade, Alessandro Nesta, was missing. The 34-year-old, who returned from what some thought was a career-ending back injury during the 2008-09 season, was not on the list.
Nesta missed much of the last two months of the Serie A campaign, but returned for the end of the season and even played for AC Milan on a season-ending North American tour. Lippi begged Nesta to return, but was unable to convince the star, who was injured in all three of his previous World Cups.
So Lippi’s defense was a mess to say the least. Fabio Cannavaro and Giorgio Chiellini from Juventus experienced a horrible season. Juventus’ defense was so bad that it had a streak of 20 consecutive matches in Serie A without a shutout.
Lippi also included two young defenders from Genoa in Domenico Criscito and Salvatore Bocchetti. Genoa finished the season 19th out of 20 Serie A clubs in goals allowed. Criscito also played as part of Genoa’s five-man midfield in the club’s 3-5-2 formation employed by coach Giampiero Gasperini.
Napoli’s Christian Maggio, who was one of the few bright spots in Italy’s match against Slovakia, also featured as a midfielder in a 3-5-2 formation during the regular season. Rounding out the defense were Bari defender Leonardo Bonucci and AC Milan veteran Gianluca Zambrotta.
While Zambrotta is a proven veteran, he played in just 24 of 38 Serie A matches this season as he battled injuries. Bonucci was a surprise, as he had never played in Serie A prior to this past season.
Italy’s midfield was actually expected to be the team's strength. Playmaker Andrea Pirlo was injured just days before the start of the tournament and his presence was clearly missed.
Talented Fiorentina midfielder Riccardo Montolivo was asked to pick up the pieces. Montolivo showed flashes of being able to replace Pirlo, but was not consistent.
Daniele De Rossi, who developed into one of the top defensive midfielders in the world with AS Roma, was clearly not himself in the World Cup.
Juventus midfielder Claudio Marchisio, who some compared to 1982 World Cup star and current Ireland National Team assistant coach Marco Tardelli, was experimented in roles different than what he plays at the club level. As a result, Marchisio was almost invisible.
Sampdoria’s Angelo Palombo, who had a stellar season as a defensive midfielder, never saw a minute on the pitch.
Veterans Mauro Camoranesi and Gennaro Gattuso were both coming off of difficult seasons. The Juventus winger was injured for a good portion of the season and played in just 24 Serie A matches. Gattuso appeared in 22 Serie A matches as he fell out of order in AC Milan’s midfield rotation, which most commonly featured Pirlo, veteran Dutch star Clarence Seedorf, and team captain Massimo Ambrosini.
Ambrosini is a player many fans felt belonged in South Africa.
Simone Pepe, who played on the wings, is a converted forward and played for a club that finished in 15th place in Serie A.
Italy’s group of forwards was certainly shaky. Alberto Gilardino and Vincenzo Iaquinta returned from four years ago. But Gilardino finished the Serie A season in a slump and Iaquinta missed most of the season due to injury. He never really got into top form.
Giampiero Pazzini and Fabio Quagliarella both had solid seasons and seemed like solid choices. However, the more talented Quagliarella had just 45 minutes to show what he was made of. He scored a goal, provided an assist, and nearly scored on two more occasions.
Antonio Di Natale, who had 29 goals in Serie A, made the most sense as he is a small skillful forward. But Di Natale didn’t even start in Italy’s first two games.
Last but not least, Italy lost starting goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon after just one half of a match to injury.
Backup Federico Marchetti was given his job over the more experienced Morgan De Sanctis, who had a stellar season with Napoli. Marchetti showed that he is nothing more than a mediocre goalie.
Fortunately for Italy, a new era will begin in just a few months as former Fiorentina manager Cesare Prandelli will replace Lippi.
Expect to see many new faces on Italy's national team.