Reporters attending Italy's press conference at Southdown College, Pretoria on Saturday could have been forgiven for thinking they were in Rome, Milan or Naples. Large blue drapes hung from the walls alongside the Italian tricolour and pictures of the Azzurri squad celebrating their Germany 2006 success, while the refreshments laid on for the journalists included acqua frizzante, red wine and delicious panini.
Waiting for them in the press room was none other than Marcello Lippi, who was on hand to field questions from the media on the eve of Italy's vital meeting with Brazil, a game that will decide their fate at the FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009.
The build-up to the showdown has been marked by the refusal of the Italy players to talk to the media, prompting speculation among the press pack as to the motives for their silence. "I don't know. You'd have to ask them," commented Lippi in typically wry fashion when asked if the players had decided to impose a news blackout. Eventually, the silver-haired tactician revealed all, explaining that the players were merely trying to focus on the game and avoid unnecessary distractions.
Unlike his players, though, Lippi was in jovial mood and happy to respond to whatever questions came his way, providing reporters with an interesting insight into his tactical appreciation of the game, not to mention a laugh or two.
"I played Rossi as a centre-forward against Egypt because I wanted to make use of his pace," he said, explaining the strategy he employed against the African champions. "The idea behind using (Fabio) Quagliarella and (Vicenzo) Iaquinta on the flanks was to try and draw their central defenders out of position and capitalise on the space. It didn't work but it was worth a try."
Julio Cesar's comments to FIFA.com about the Egypt-Italy game also drew a humorous response from the hugely experienced coach. "He said the Egyptians ran a lot?" queried Lippi with a smile on his face. "Well, if you ask me I'd say it was their keeper who was running a lot, from one side of the goal to the other. You get games like that though. Every match is different," he added, almost under his breath.
Next up was a question on goalkeeper Gigi Buffon, who had said earlier in the week that he would prefer Italy to play well than to win the trophy. Collecting his thoughts, Lippi rebuffed his keeper's comments. "For me the most important thing is to win and that's what we came here for. If we play well, then all the better, but winning is what matters."
In that interview with FIFA.com Julio Cesar cited Brazil's 4-1 defeat of Italy in the Final of Mexico 70 as his favourite match between the two countries. Not surprisingly, Lippi chose to recall another famous meeting. "Spain 82: Italy 3, Brazil 2. What a beautiful match, especially as it came right after Italy's 3-1 defeat of Argentina and even more so because one of the men who played in that game is with us now," commented the wily coach, winking at the onlooking Giuseppe Bergomi.
Despite ltaly's defeat in Mexico City, the former Juventus coach does have some fond memories of the tournament. "Italy's game against Germany sticks in the mind. We won 4-3 and it's seen as one of the greatest games of all time. It was a very important match for Italian football but the team was exhausted after that game and had very little left for the final against Brazil."
The most recent meeting between the sides came in a friendly in March, with Dunga's men winning 2-0. Reluctant to draw comparisons with tomorrow's high-stakes encounter, Lippi said: "I don't think that match has any bearing. It was a friendly and a few of the players were facing a big team for the first time and we paid for it. That defeat won't have any influence at all."
"This team is still very hungry and we want to win the World Cup" he continued, shrugging off suggestions his team were a fading force, before ending his appearance on a typically amusing note. "They said we were mummies, but sometimes mummies take their bandages off."