Team Profile: Four-time World Cup winners Italy are a force to be reckoned with, for sure, but their most recent campaign in a major tournament was disastrous and you have to go all the way back to 1968 for their best performance in European competition. That said, the Azzurri did reach the final at Euro 2000 and were unbeaten in qualification en route to this summer’s finals, shipping just two goals. The squad may lack the legends of old – the likes of Roberto Baggio and Alessandro del Piero – but who needs superstars when you’ve got discipline, world-renowned defensive qualities and one of the best goalkeepers in the world? And with manager Cesare Prandelli introducing youth to the team, Italy look like decent contenders – even if they do face current world and European champions Spain in the same group (on the plus side, Italy did beat them in a friendly last year).
Coach: Cesare Prandelli
Former Atalanta and Juventus midfielder Prandelli began his coaching career in the youth systems back at Atalanta, but his standout achievements as a manager came at the helm of Fiorentina between 2005 and 2010, securing European football for a side that had previously been battling relegation from Serie A. Prandelli replaced Marcello Lippi as Italy manager following the side’s poor World Cup in 2010, and, despite losing his first game in charge, has seemingly starting to remind his team of their nation’s footballing greatness.
Player to watch: Gianluigi Buffon
Buffon’s numerous accolades, which include a record eight Serie A Goalkeeper of the Year awards, underline the 34-year-old Juventus shot-stopper’s impressive skills in front of goal. He is considered by many to be one of the world’s best keepers, a sentiment echoed by Pelé, no less, who named him in his list of 125 greatest living footballers in the world. Having tasted plenty of domestic success with Juventus – most recently as unbeaten Serie A champions in the 2011-12 season – and lifted the World Cup trophy in 2006, Buffon has more than shown he has what it takes to perform on the big stage.
FIFA World Ranking: 12
UEFA Euro Ranking: 4
Number of Euro appearances: 12
Previous best: Winners in 1968
Qualification: Winners of Group C – 20 goals scored, 2 goals against, 60 attempts on target, 50 corners
Form (qualifying): WWDWWWWWDW
Fixtures: June 10 – vs. Spain; June 14 vs. Croatia; June 18 vs. Ireland