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Italy hope new attack will change fortune

The three-time winners bring a long streak of bad luck and two new strikers to the World Cup.

india Updated: May 08, 2006 16:53 IST

Italy bring a long streak of bad luck and two new strikers to the World Cup.

Since their last major title in 1982, the Azzurri have been eliminated from soccer's top competition on penalties three times.

Four years ago, Ahn Jung-hwan's golden goal sent Italy home after the second round, although the defeat to South Korea was blamed on Ecuadorean referee Byron Moreno.

The squad's fortunes in the European Championship have been even crueler.

In the 2000 final, Italy were seconds from victory when Sylvain Wiltord equalized for France in the 90th minute and David Trezeguet won the game with a golden goal.

In 2004, Italy became the first team eliminated from the group phase of the competition without losing a match.

"You can't say Italian soccer was of poor quality during these 25 years," coach Marcello Lippi said. "It's not like we haven't done anything. It shouldn't be a burden. In history, Italy is one of the countries that has won the most."

Italy have won the World Cup three times, tied with Germany for second-most behind Brazil's five victories.

"You have to take into account yesterday, today and tomorrow," Lippi said.

"When you talk about yesterday, you have to tip your hat. When you talk about today, you have to be confident.

"And when you speak about tomorrow, you have to plan well." Lippi's plan is more offensive than that of Giovanni Trapattoni, who he replaced after Euro 2004.

Big, physical forwards Alberto Gilardino and Luca Toni provide a new look for Italy's attack.

Trapattoni caused an uproar when he didn't bring Gilardino to Euro 2004 and Lippi was quick to integrate the player into his team.

"Playing my first World Cup at the age of 23 is unbelievable," said Gilardino, who was born July 5, 1982 — the day Italy beat Brazil en route to their last title.

"I want to make a name for myself on the international level."

At 29, the 1.93-meter (6-foot-4) Toni is a late bloomer who was playing in Serie B with Palermo two seasons ago. He is the leading scorer in Serie A this season with Fiorentina.

"I almost have a hard time believing that we're going to take part in a competition like the World Cup," Toni said. The architect of Italy's attack remains Francesco Totti, whose recovery from leg surgery in February is going smoothly. While Totti rejoined AS Roma in early May, Lippi tested possible alternative lineups in a two-day training camp at the beginning of the month.

"We're trying some different options," Toni said.

"With Totti behind us, though, it's something altogether different. At his position, if he's healthy, Francesco is the best player the world."

Besides his injury, Totti is looking to bounce back from a three-match ban he received for spitting at Euro 2004. Lippi looks to have plenty of attack options off the bench, too, with Alessandro Del Piero and Filippo Inzaghi likely to make the squad.

With Paolo Maldini having retired from the national team after the last World Cup, the new captain is Fabio Cannavaro, who anchors the defense with Alessandro Nesta in front of goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.

Midfield is solid with Mauro Camoranesi, Daniele De Rossi, Gennaro Gattuso and Andrea Pirlo.

The draw was not kind to Italy, however.

The Azzurri open against Ghana on June 12, play the United States five days later and then play the Czech Republic on June 22 in Group E, considered one of the tournament's toughest.

Moreover, Italy are traditionally slow starters and if they don't win their group, they will likely face Brazil in the second round.

"What's important is that we are convinced of our strength and feel inferior to nobody," Lippi said.