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Old wine, served with flair

sports Updated: May 19, 2014 00:40 IST
Cesare Prandelli

Like Argentina, they qualified for Brazil with two games to spare. Unlike them though Italy seem to be an advertisement for the saying ‘old is gold.’ The average age for coach Cesare Prandelli’s starting line-up could be around 30. Italy also have a supremely gifted striker prone to momentary lapses of reason, others susceptible to wild swings in temperament and one striker named Immobile.

But they have also won this competition four times, rising almost from the dead to stun a regal Brazil side in 1982 and showing the steel to put behind them the dreaded match-fixing scandal that overshadowed the 2006 campaign.

And the Azzurri (the blue shirts) have been done well under Prandelli, finishing runners-up in the 2012 Euro after being staying unbeaten in the qualifying campaign. Last year, Italy nearly beat Spain in the Confederations Cup semifinals before losing on penalties. The odds thus are low on Prandelli, one of the game’s most likeable and eloquent coaches, coming up with the right formula when it matters.

In charge since 2010, Prandelli’s first task is to steer Italy through a tough-looking first-round group against Uruguay, England and Costa Rica and make sure they do not suffer a repeat of their elimination at the first hurdle in South Africa in 2010.

Helped by a code of ethics which he has applied implacably and led to Daniele de Rossi, Mario Balotelli and Dani Osvaldo being dropped at various stages, Prandelli has shown an uncanny knack for dealing with problem players.

Italy have plenty of those. Think Balotelli, the Argentine-born Osvaldo, who scored four goals in the qualifiers, or De Rossi, whose superb all-round midfield skills often get marred by a tendency to the red card.

Old faithfuls
Italy fielded 40 players in the World Cup qualifiers as Prandelli searched for some younger blood, yet his side in Brazil is likely to feature plenty of old faithfuls.

Gianluigi Buffon, 36, remains the first-choice goalkeeper and is set to play at his fourth World Cup while Andrea Pirlo, who will be 35, is still pulling the strings in midfield.

Pirlo, who like Buffon was in the 2006 World Cup-winning team, has helped Juventus dominate Serie A over the last three seasons and remains one of the world’s great dead-ball specialists. Remember his chipped penalty-kick in the 2012 Euro?

Other regulars such as Andrea Barzagli, Giorgio Chiellini, Riccardo Montolivo and De Rossi, are all approaching or past their 30th birthdays.

Balotelli should lead the attack, although the second striker, if there is one, is one of many cards that Prandelli is keeping close to his chest.

Fiorentina’s Giuseppe Rossi is in the provisional squad but even if the US-born striker isn’t fit, Mattia Destro, Ciro Immobile and Alessio Cerci have all been scoring regularly this season.

Italy do not have a set formation but tend to play a modern, dynamic game, with pressing and quick attacks usually initiated by Pirlo from deep in his own half.