Lippi: I am very satisfied
They are the reigning world champions and top their South Africa 2010 qualifying section with a game in hand, but Italy still have their critics. For those detractors, the pressure is on Marcello Lippi's side to rediscover their swagger as they bid to reassert their claim to be the world's premier footballing force.
Lippi knows that style as well as substance is expected of the Azzurri, although he believes that it is primarily results, rather than free-flowing football, that will win hearts and convert these critics into allies. The 61-year-old has, of course, occupied the national hotseat once before and, having returned after Italy endured a disappointing UEFA EURO 2008 under Roberto Donadoni, is well aware that his past achievements only increase the level of expectancy.
In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, Lippi makes no secret of the fact that he would love to conquer the world again, admitting the feeling of doing so in Germany was "beyond what words can express". But he will not set targets, not to the media anyway. One thing for sure, though, is that he realises only too well the importance of a enjoying a successful FIFA Confederations Cup in a country that is already a source of genuine fascination.
FIFA.com: This is Italy's first FIFA Confederations Cup. What are your expectations?
Marcello Lippi: For us, all tournaments are important. We expect to play excellent matches in South Africa, we want to grow as a team and a working group. One of the most important things is to consolidate our strengths and exploit all the opportunities that come our way in the process of developing and becoming the best we can be.
Your team have been drawn in a tough group with Brazil, Egypt and USA. Which of these teams pose the most serious threat to you?
The most important match is the first one [against USA]; we need to make sure that we beat our first opponents. If the first game goes well, then logically the others will follow suit. If it goes badly, it will be more difficult for us to regain our momentum. But I don't want to sit here and talk about our opponents, I want to talk about my own team and what we aim for.
There has been huge interest in Italy's game against Brazil. What do you think are the major differences between the two sides.
First of all, it is normal to see a lot of interest because Brazil are currently the strongest team in the world and Italy are the current world champions. There is nothing surprising about that. As for differences? [Hesitates] The Brazilians are very strong, they are quick when they attack, they are a very dangerous team. Our styles are different - very different - so we can't really draw comparisons.
As world champions, is there a lot of pressure on you to perform?
No, no, there is no pressure. We have a group who train and play well together and there is no pressure on us. Football is about being prepared mentally, you have to understand the psychological aspect of the game.
This is the second time in charge of the Italian national team. Are there any differences from your first spell?
There is not much difference. The first time I had two years to construct a team and it's the same this time around. We are about halfway through; half the work is done and I am very satisfied with the progress and with the team's performances.
When Italy won the 2006 FIFA World Cup™, can you describe how you felt in those minutes after the final whistle?
How I felt? Well, that is not difficult to imagine. I suppose I could try to explain, but I think it's beyond what words can really express. It was special.
Since winning the FIFA World Cup, Italy have struggled to maintain their momentum. Why do you feel that is?
I guess there are many reasons, but it's not something I would want to spend time talking about. There are reasons, of course.
EURO 2008 was obviously a major disappointment.
Well, I was at home, I watched the games on TV like many people. One really can't talk about a situation if one has not been actively involved.
What are your expectations of South Africa as hosts of the FIFA Confederations Cup?
Well, I am fascinated by the country and look forward to the visit. I have never been there before, but I have heard a lot of positive things about it. I am curious to experience the climate and the people, its potential and so many things. I have never been to South Africa, or Africa indeed - except for Egypt - so I am very curious to know what we are going to encounter. But I have certainly heard a lot of good things about South Africa and I'm looking forward to being there. People say it's a beautiful country.
You have coached some tremendous players. Who would you single out as the best you have worked with?
The best player? Let me see [hesitates]. I don't feel I can make that differentiation, it's not really fair. I have coached many talented players, special players. They are all great players and great men and, in that light, they are really all at the same level.