It has been a long four years since the putrid results of South Africa and while the memory of that tournament may still haunt some players, this tournament should leave a better taste in their mouths. A second place finish in the Euro and a third place finish in last year’s Confederations Cup has already done much to boost expectations. Going into this tournament, Italy shouldn’t be afraid to dream big because a deep run is definitely possible. Here are a few of the big talking points surrounding Italy before the opening game against England.
Three or Four Man Backline – Cesare Prandelli has played around with a few formations, and while it was once believed that he would implement a three man back line composed of the three Juventus defenders (Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini), it looks like he is opting for a four man line instead. This not only adds an extra defender but also speed, which would be lacking in the all Juventus defense. England have their most talented attack in a long time and Uruguay have former Napoli frontman Edinson Cavani partnered with Liverpool’s Luis Suarez (if healthy), so any added speed will be monumental in matchups.
Tough Group – Speaking of the opponents, Italy were handed no favors with this lot. As mentioned, England is bringing a young and talented attack. Players like Sturridge, Raheem Sterling, Lallana, and Ricky Lambert have England looking quite different than they have in the past. Since 2010, Uruguay have been one of the better teams in international football but the fitness concerns of Suarez, who is coming off a PHENOMENAL year, could disrupt their plans. Regardless, with Edinson Cavani as your second striker, their attack will still be strong. Costa Rica while considered the weakest team of the group, could easily come up with an upset, as their scrappy play will cause fits for all three teams.
Two Playmakers in the Mid – Obviously Andrea Pirlo will be directing play with Daniele De Rossi supplying strength, but Marco Verratti is extremely talented and his performance in the two friendlies has many talking about a starting role alongside Pirlo. Usually Prandelli prefers having another midfielder in front of Pirlo, usually in the form of Riccardo Montolivo, to connect the middle with the strikers. Depending on how Prandelli wants to line up, we could see two playmakers in the Italy midfield, so good luck to any opposing midfield trying to contain that.
Attack, Attack, Attack should be Modus operandi – If there is one area that has been discussed the most about Italy’s team, it is the attacking third. Mario Balotelli is guaranteed to start as he is the most talented striker on the peninsula, but who plays alongside him and how they line up is an entirely different question. Prandelli brought a slew of forwards that offer him a wide variety of options and allow him to keep the opposing defenses on their toes. We could see a trident attack with Antonio Candreva on the right and Lorenzo Insigne or Antonio Cassano on the left. Insigne, Cassano, Ciro Immobile, or Alessio Cerci could move in to form a typical two striker attack with Balo, or Prandelli can play Balotelli as the lone striker just as he did against Luxembourg with Claudio Marchisio and Candreva behind him. Regardless of what formation Prandelli chooses to start with you can expect he will be ready to change it quickly if he feels the need.
CRYSTAL BALL: SEMI-FINAL – Expect Italy to come out slow, probably draw England, but then win out the group. If the last two international tournaments (Confederations cup and Euro 2012) are any indication of this team’s potential, then Italy should be able to make a deep run. They win the group, finally overcome Spain (they have to beat them eventually right), but Argentina in South America could be the dream breaker in any potential semi-final finish.