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Italy’s Ten-sion

Italy head to South Africa for the defence of their title with a worrying problem, they're missing a number 10. This doesn't mean the azzurri will be playing a man short for the tournament but merely that they have no-one whose natural game is as a second striker.

sports Updated: Jun 07, 2010 01:27 IST

Italy head to South Africa for the defence of their title with a worrying problem, they're missing a number 10. This doesn't mean the azzurri will be playing a man short for the tournament but merely that they have no-one whose natural game is as a second striker.

What this means is that Italy's attack will be seriously compromised, making them a less effective unit.

Coach Marcello Lippi has admitted as much, telling his players that they will be building from a solid defensive foundation and informing the media that his probable tactics will be one lone striker backed up by nine outfield players who “run around and defend.”

It is a major concern for the reigning champions who arrive with a dearth of quality frontmen.

For a team who have in the past called on Gianluca Vialli, Roberto Mancini, Roberto Baggio, Francesco Totti and Alessandro Del Piero to lead their frontline, the current squad is a horribly poor shadow of teams past. And that is no more so in evidence than up front.

Alberto Gilardino, Antonio Di Natale, Vincenzo Iaquinta, Giampaolo Pazzini and Fabio Quagliarella would barely be fit to lace up the boots of their illustrious predecessors.

Gilardino is a favourite to be asked to lead the line, a job he was also given in Germany 2006 before losing his place at the business end of matters. As a player, he failed at AC Milan and lost his place to a pair of teenagers before moving to Fiorentina two years ago.

His record of 35 goals in 71 league games over the last two seasons is good and translates to more or less a goal every two games, but it isn't sensational.

Di Natale has just finished a great season for Udinese with a stunning 29 goals in 35 Serie A games to finish capocanoniere, or top goalscorer.

But this season was a one off and he's been playing in a team fighting a relegation battle. At 32, he's played his whole career in mid-table for struggling Serie A teams as well as few seasons in Serie B with Empoli. He's quick and can be elusive but is more of a wide player than a forward.

Iaquinta is a big targetman but if Gilardino is picked down the middle, he is likely to play out wide and out of position where he is less effective. He's also been injured for much of the season, playing only 15 league games, and despite spending several years at Juventus, he has never broken a goal every two games. He brings neither flair nor an abundancy of goals to the table.

The other two forwards are Sampdoria's Pazzini, a No. 9 in Gilardino's mould, and Napoli's Quagliarella. Quagliarella is not a No. 10 but as an out an out striker his record has never been better than a goal every three games.

Lippi, who resisted the temptation to call up veterans Totti or Del Piero, has suggested he may use midfielder Claudio Marchisio in the number 10 role but that is not his natural position and smacks of desperation. It all means that no-one should be expecting much fantasy football from Italy.