The world champions finished top of their qualifying group, albeit only securing a ticket to South Africa on their penultimate game. If anything, this will serve as a reminder that the Azzuri will have their work cut out for them if they want to retain the trophy. But with their ruthless defensive organisation and Marcello Lippi’s return to the managerial hot seat, there’s little reason to believe that the Italians can’t at least make the last eight.
At 61 year of age, Marcello Lippi is a seasoned veteran in the cut-throat world of international management – and a decorated one at that: he guided Italy to victory in the 2006 FIFA World Cup final. The fact that five out of Italy’s 12 goals in the 2006 tournament came from substitutions is telling of the man’s tactical prowess and astute understanding of the game.
Player to watch
It’s not often you can call a ’keeper a match winner, but, then, it’s not often you find a keeper as unique as Buffon.
We’re on the ball
World Cup appearances: 16
Previous best: Winners, 1934, 1938, 1982 & 2006
Odds of winning: 13/1
Strange but true: The current coach, Marcello Lippi, retired after the team’s FIFA World Cup 2006 win, but was re-hired after his successor failed to impress
Fixtures: Paraguay, June 14, 10.30pm, Cape Town New Zealand, June 20, 6pm, Nelspruit Slovakia, June 24, 6pm, Johannesburg