The Italians won back-to-back titles in ’34 and ’38. If they want to repeat the feat, they’ll have to fight their way through some much quicker opponents.
Colors: Blue and white
Although several key players are approaching the end of their careers—the mid-30s is senior citizenship in soccer—the defending champs are still the team to beat; and they have the experience, talent and skills to repeat. The Azzurri’s will to win, however, could be frustrated by the conflicting style of play between their older and younger players.
The older guys are content to draw out a game with simple passing until they can find an open striker. However, all of the Italians—old and young—will pick up their play if necessary in the knockout rounds.
Key Players: Gianluigi Buffon, Daniele De Rossi and Alberto Gilardino
In ’06, Buffon was the best goalkeeper in the world—and a key reason why Italy hoisted the Cup. In an era of young, quick and powerful strikers, he will have to perform spectacularly once again if his team hopes to repeat.
The midfield is where the Azzurri plan to dictate the action, showcasing the skills of De Rossi, the ’09 Italian Player of the Year. De Rossi will also create open space to free up one of Italy’s main offensive weapons, Gilardino, who netted 18 goals for his Fiorentina club this past season. If Gilardino stays on form, the Italians will be as formidable as they were in ’06.
Key Matchup: Italy vs. Paraguay
Will the Italian side come out with full force, eager to repeat? Or will the Azzurri get out-hustled by the new crop of world-class footballers pushing the action to a faster pace. Come June 14, the world will find out.
Discipline and experience will get the Italians through Group F and into the knockout rounds, where their age will begin to show, forcing an exit in the quarterfinals and a relinquishment of the championship trophy.
Related link: World Cup 2010 Countdown