Attacking Azzurri

ATTACKERS OF STYLE: Francesco Totti (centre) flanked by Alberto Gilardino (left) and Luca Toni (right) at the Italian team's training centre near Florence.-AP ATTACKERS OF STYLE: Francesco Totti (centre) flanked by Alberto Gilardino (left) and Luca Toni (right) at the Italian team's training centre near Florence.

Attackers win matches. Believe it or not, that might well be the mantra of Italy manager Marcello Lippi, who, unlike most of his predecessors, has a fleet of TOP-CLASS STRIKERS at Germany 2006 to add to the nation's traditionally strong defensive department, writes CINDY GARCIA-BENNETT.

Attackers win matches. Believe it or not, that might well be the mantra of Italy manager Marcello Lippi, who, unlike most of his predecessors, has a fleet of top-class strikers at Germany 2006 to add to the nation's traditionally strong defensive department. Lippi's favoured ones from the long list of home-grown attacking talents in Serie `A' are Vincenzo Iaquinta, Alessandro Del Piero, Alberto Gilardino, Luca Toni and Filippo Inzaghi. The supremely talented Francesco Totti, who has recovered in time from a serious injury to his ankle and lower leg, is also in the squad. "I am happy with the variety of forwards at my disposal," said Lippi. "The Italian league has a number of very good forwards."

The understatement is accompanied by learned caution. The downfall of Lippi's predecessor Giovanni Trapattoni was put down to the controversial decision to exclude Gilardino from his Euro 2004 squad. Gilardino was a 21-year-old sensation at Parma at the time — he has since been picked up by AC Milan — and topped the Serie `A' scoring charts. He should have been first on the teamsheet, but the off-form Del Piero was picked instead and Italy were knocked out in the first round, goal difference their undoing after finishing level on points with group winners Sweden and second-placed Denmark. Trapattoni had to go and, just as surely, Gilardino is sure to shine in his first World Cup in Germany. Gilardino's form for Milan — where he has outshone both Inzaghi and Christian Vieri — has been too impressive to ignore. Therefore, Gilardino and Florentina's prolific Luca Toni, who starred in Italy's World Cup qualifying campaign, will start as Lippi's first-choice strikers. The experienced Totti — who will be given the chance to redeem himself following the infamous spitting incident at Euro 2004 which reduced his credibility to tatters — is likely to play behind the front two. Del Piero is likely to come off the bench to play either behind the front two or as a wide midfielder.

The Italian midfield would be organised around AC Milan's brilliant holding player, Andrea Pirlo, who is also the team's dead-ball specialist. Pirlo will link up with club teammate Gennaro Gattuso, whose surging runs either in a central position or as an inside-right are much feared by Serie `A' rivals. Argentina-born Mauro Camoranesi, the consistent Juventus and Italian right-sided midfielder, and Roma's Daniele de Rossi are Lippi's other midfield regulars. Which brings us to the very heart of Italian football — its defence. The experienced central defence pairing of captain Fabio Cannavaro and Alessandro Nesta is the best in the world going into the tournament, with Inter's attacking central defender Marco Materazzi being their back-up. The formidable trio will be assisted by Fabio Grosso in the left-back position — the one manned by Paolo Maldini with distinction for the last four World Cups — and Gianluca Zambrotta, the Juventus full-back, on the right. Zambrotta and Camoranesi have effectively linked up at the right of Juventus over the past few seasons and this pairing will be deployed by Lippi to good effect in Germany.

The goalkeeper, in the best tradition of Italian football, is one of the world's best, Juventus' Gianluigi Buffon. He, though, must keep his focus in Germany in the light of his name being dragged into the recent football controversy in which his country is embroiled; it was revealed that Buffon placed bets on matches during his time in Serie `A' club Parma which was much before FIFA's guidelines barring players placing bets on sporting events came into effect. It would be foolish to bet against Italy adding to its titles won in 1934, 1938 and 1982. Just as it would be unwise to bet against Gilardino and Toni emulating Paolo Rossi's 1982 feats, which included a hat-trick that sent tournament favourites Brazil out in the second stage of the tournament.

THE TEAM

Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Angelo Peruzzi (Lazio), Marco Amelia (Livorno).

Defenders: Cristian Zaccardo (Palermo), Alessandro Nesta (AC Milan), Fabio Cannavaro (Juventus), Gianluca Zambrotta (Juventus), Marco Materazzi (Internazionale), Fabio Grosso (Palermo), Massimo Oddo (Lazio), Andrea Barzagli (Palermo).

Midfielders: Andrea Pirlo (AC Milan), Gennaro Gattuso (AC Milan), Daniele De Rossi (AS Roma), Mauro Camoranesi (Juventus), Simone Perrotta (AS Roma), Simone Barone (Palermo).

Forwards: Luca Toni (Fiorentina), Alessandro Del Piero (Juventus), Francesco Totti (AS Roma), Alberto Gilardino (AC Milan), Filippo Inzaghi (AC Milan), Vincenzo Iaquinta (Udinese).

Coach: Marcello Lippi.

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