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Italy in need of clearout to defend World title

sports Updated: Jun 22, 2009 11:04 IST
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Italy coach Marcello Lippi immediately faced calls for a squad clearout if it is to have any designs on defending its World Cup title next year following Sunday's embarrassing exit from the Confederations Cup. The Azzurri exited the cup at the group stage after a 3-0 loss to Brazil on Sunday, three days after being beaten 1-0 by Egypt. Italy could have advanced by scoring just one goal against Brazil, but Lippi's squad hardly threatened against a rampaging Brazil team and finished the tournament without scoring a goal against 11 men.

Lippi was immediately pressured to bring more younger players into the squad.

"Unfortunately we're out and we're very upset," he said. "But people on the outside should stay calm about pushing for younger players, because you need a certain type of experience in these types of games.

"There are younger players, but let them mature gradually. These are the best players in Italy. Maybe they're a little out of form, but these are the best players and I'm not changing them." Brazil won Group A with a maximum nine points and the United States went through ahead of Italy on goals scored. The US, Italy and Egypt finished with three points each.

It's the second consecutive major tournament from which Italy has been eliminated early after its title in Germany three years ago. At last year's European Championship, Italy lost to eventual champion Spain on penalties in the quarterfinals.

"It's not the end of the world. It's better that this happened now rather than at the World Cup finals," Italian football federation president Giancarlo Abete said.

"It would be a mistake to prosecute the players that gave us the World Cup. It's not an age problem for a lot of them, but rather a question of physical condition."

Lippi returned after Euro 2008 and brought the core of his World Cup squad back with him. Twelve members of the 23-man squad here took part in the triumph in Berlin.

The only bright spot for Italy at this tournament was a laborious 3-1 win over the United States, when Italy scored all three of its goals after the Americans were reduced to 10 men. Giuseppe Rossi came off the bench and scored twice against the US and earned a start at center forward against Egypt, but Lippi's experimental attack with Vincenzo Iaquinta and Fabio Quagliarella misfired.

Lippi went back to Luca Toni at center forward against Brazil, but at 32 Toni concluded his second consecutive major tournament without a goal. Alberto Gilardino appeared in better form than Toni, but Lippi has tended to prefer the 1.92-meter (6-foot-4) Bayern Munich forward.

Lippi left talented but volatile striker Antonio Cassano at home and has not yet called up 18-year-old Inter Milan forward Mario Balotelli. There's no doubt the coach will face pressure to bring both players with him to South Africa next year.

"You can't just throw a young player into a game like this," Lippi said. "You need to bring younger players along gradually. If hadn't hurt his knee the other day, (18-year-old defender Davide) Santon would have definitely played tonight."

An even bigger concern could be defense, where there is no apparent heir to captain Fabio Cannavaro, who matched Paolo Maldini's Italy record with his 126th appearance on Sunday. Italy's defense was constantly exposed as sluggish by the Brazilians' speed. Unfortunately for Lippi, he doesn't have much more room for experiments, as Italy holds only a one-point lead over Ireland in its World Cup qualifying group.