Golden oldies

The Italians rarely played scintillating football during the qualification phase, preferring instead to play their own brand based on solidity and a hard work ethic. In South Africa, too, they should follow this method with a cohesive team that includes as many as eight survivors from the 2006 winning squad.

Italy, the defending champion, is the most successful team after Brazil. And, like the Brazilians again, the Italians are the only ones to have won back-to-back tournaments, in 1934 and 1938.

Germany 2006 marked Italy's fourth triumph in the World Cup, the third having come in 1982. With FIFA having scrapped an automatic spot for the champion side since 2002, Italy made sure of its berth for South Africa 2010 by winning Group 8 of the European qualifiers with a game to spare.

And, the Azzurris rarely played scintillating football during the qualification phase, preferring instead to play their own brand based on solidity and a hard work ethic. In South Africa, too, they should follow this method with a cohesive team that includes as many as eight survivors from the 2006 winning squad — goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, captain and defender Fabio Cannavaro, full-back Gianluca Zambrotta, midfielders Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi, winger Mauro Camoranesi and forwards Vincenzo Ianquinta and Alberto Gilardino.

Small wonder then that the Italians have been dubbed as ‘golden oldies' by critics back home. And doubts have been cast about the abilities of their once rock-hard defence to withstand pressure from racy, young rival forwards. However, this is unlikely to happen in the first round where Italy is with Paraguay, New Zealand and Slovakia in Group F, the matches against the last two almost certain to provide the cushion for the seeded side to sail through.

Under these circumstances, the midfield, where the experienced Andrea Pirlo should be the hatchet man, should hold the key to Italy's fortunes at its 18th World Cup. It has often been said that if Pirlo plays well then his team also plays well. This rule seems to be applicable for both Italy and AC Milan. Pirlo, for the record, plays in the role of an aggressive playmaker close to the strikers in both these sides.

His role is also crucial as the Italian side lacks a classy forward in the mould of Messi or Torres. Gilardino, Ianquinta and Antonio Di Natale are good players but have often proved to be indecisive.

Marcello Lippi, who guided the Azzurris to the memorable triumph in Germany 2006, is now in his second spell as team manager. He had quit a day after helping his country win its fourth World Cup, but was forced to come back as the Italians plunged into despair after a very disappointing Euro 2008 under Roberto Donadoni.

The astute Lippi, who has won everything from Serie A to the Champions League to the World Cup, is a person of clear ideas and precise principles. He prefers his team to be a cohesive unit rather than one filled with individual brilliance.

This should also explain the absence of Fabio Grosso and Antonio Candreva from his final roster for the World Cup. The two were considered certainties by the Italian media before Lippi made his final cut.

THE TEAM GOALKEEPERS

Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Federico Marchetti (Cagliari) and Morgan de Sanctis (Napoli).

DEFENDERS

Christian Maggio (Napoli), Domenico Criscito (Genoa), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Fabio Cannavaro (Juventus), Salvatore Bocchetti (Genoa), Gianluca Zambrotta (AC Milan) and Leonardo Bonucci (Bari).

MIDFIELDERS

Daniele de Rossi (AS Roma), Simone Pepe (Udinese), Gennaro Gattuso (AC Milan), Claudio Marchisio (Juventus), Mauro Camoranesi (Juventus), Angelo Palombo (Sampdoria), Andrea Pirlo (AC Milan) and Riccardo Montolivo (Fiorentina).

FORWARDS

Vincenzo Iaquinta (Juventus), Antonio di Natale (Udinese), Alberto Gilardino (Fiorentina), Fabio Quagliarella (Napoli) and Giampaolo Pazzini (Sampdoria).

COACH: Marcello Lippi.