Italy crashed out at the group stage 4 years ago, having won the Cup in 2006, but Cesadre Prandelli has transformed a side that was on it’s last legs into a formidable force and they bring a versatile mix of players that is well capable of going all the way in Brazil.
Italy’s foundation has always – perhaps rather stereotypically – been seen as their defence but it’s hard to argue with the performances of three players central to Juventus’s league triumphs. Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagili, and Giorgio Chilleni let in just 23 league goals this season and 24 the season before that as Juventus romped to another league title by a wide margin.
Ignzaio Abate was a fixture of improvement under Prandelli and provides pace to compliment the other three and Gabriel Paletta’s fantastic season with Parma allows him to have a deserved breakthrough run in the squad. Gianlugi Buffon will miss the opener against England but Salvatore Sirigu is an accomplished keeper who started 37 league games for PSG.
In midfield, they are without Ricardo Montlivo, obviously a massive blow for them, but they still have the jewel in the crown that is Andrea Pirlo and judged by the way that he ran Juventus’s games this season in Serie A and the Champions League suggests that he hasn’t lost a single step even at the age of 35. Many will be paying close attention to make sure that he doesn’t embarrass their sides the way he did England 2 years ago but put too much focus upon him and you could hand the initiative towards Marco Veratti, the 21 year old startlet who had made a big impression upon the Champions League already and has played well beyond his years for a PSG side that also houses the in form Thiago Motta.
Daniele De Rossi’s Roma had their best league campaign since finishing runners up to the treble wining Inter Milan three seasons ago, finishing a clear second, and the midfield maestro provides effective cover for the back four and a potential attacking and creative threat going forward. Claudio Marchsio’s role is vitally important but he too had a solid campaign for Juventus in 29 league games and plenty of international experience.
Upfront, Mario Balotelli looks improved since Euro 2012, having moved back to Italy and settled down a tad for Milan, and his form will be crucial to how far Italy progress although he seems to have bought his best towards the national side with 12 goals in 29 caps. However, Italy brings more than just the Milan forward. Ciro Immobile scored 22 goals for Torino – he has now been snapped up by Dortmund – and offers a potent poacher’s threat – and Alessandro Cerci, who scored a not insignificant 13 goals for Torino – brings an element of pace to the side that’s much needed in this heat and the two could open up chances for Italy.
Andrea Cassano has earned his place in the squad with superb creative play of the type that he offered two years ago and an existing partnership with Mario Balotelli promises much if the two click again like they did four years ago. Lorenzo Insigne was also a contestant threat for Napoli in both European and domestic competition, showing control beyond his years as he also landed the Coppa Italia in his first full season for the club, and they give Italy a fighting chance.