Just over a year ago, the Azzurini surprised observers by making it to the final of the UEFA European U-19 Championships in Czech Republic. The young Italians put up a fight but in the end a very strong German side was too much for them and ran out 3-1 winners.
As a result of their excellent performances on Czech soil, Italy are now through to the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2009, and while most of the Azzurini are yet to emerge from the shadow of their elders, they are determined to write some headlines of their own on Egyptian soil.
U-20 coach Francesco Rocca, a former Italian international defender who plied his trade with Roma, took the time to give FIFA.com an exclusive interview.
FIFA.com: How are your preparations going, Francesco?
Francesco Rocca: Everything's going really well at the moment. At our last get-together (at the Mediterranean Games) I had quite a few days with the boys, and I was pretty satisfied with what I saw. The players are back with their clubs now and we'll meet up again on 1 September for an intensive training period. You need to be in perfect physical shape for a World Cup.
What have you learnt from recent matches?
Even though I rarely had my full squad available, I was obviously disappointed by our results in the Four Nations Tournament (in 2009, Italy lost 2-1 to Austria and 5-0 and 1-0 to Germany). The Mediterranean Games on the other hand were much more pleasing. I had my team together for a couple of weeks and we had the best possible conditions in which to work.
Do you already know which players you will be taking to Egypt?
I more or less have a squad in my head. The spine of the team will be the one that got us to the final of the Mediterranean Games (where they lost 2-1 to Spain), with maybe a few little modifications. I'll look at everyone's fitness levels and take into account the needs of the various clubs involved.
Describe your team to us.
It's still in the embryonic stage but we are making constant progress. We usually play 4-4-2, 4-3-3 or 4-3-1-2 according to the situation and who we are playing. We still need to improve in terms of concentration. Sometimes we can be lacking a little in focus and that can hurt us.
Is it not difficult having to qualify in July 2008 for a competition being held over a year later?
On the contrary, the time we have had has enabled me to form a tighter group and follow each individual's progress. Not all of them play regularly for their clubs so this was all the more important.
What has changed since the final of the U-19 Euro?
The players haven't all come on in the same way. They have developed differently both physically and psychologically. Not every player has managed to confirm the progress that they showed last year, so the group has undergone some minor changes here and there.
What are your aims as far as Egypt is concerned?
I have no particular goals. The competition will be very strong, and the main thing for us is to play to the best of our abilities while remembering what we are capable of. It's quite reassuring to think that we have made it through to the final of all the tournaments we have entered over the last two years.
What do you think of the group you have been drawn in?
It's an extremely tough one. The host country will be all fired up in front of their home crowd. Paraguay are a very strong team, as they proved by knocking out the defending champions Argentina in the qualifiers. Trinidad and Tobago have great speed and will no doubt plan their game around that.
Do you think that your last match, against Egypt, will be the most important one of the first round?
It won't be the most important but it will definitely be the most difficult. We will likely be playing in front of 100,000 fans in a cauldron-like atmosphere. There will be real pressure on our shoulders but we will also be working on this aspect in our preparation.
Italy have never gone beyond the quarter-finals in four attempts. Do you think you can change that statistic?
It's our duty to aim higher and we'll be working hard to achieve that.
To do so, will you have to call on players who already play an important role at their respective clubs, such as Stefano Okaka (Roma), Alberto Paloschi (Parma), Davide Santon and Mario Balotelli (both Inter Milan)?
It's too early to talk about individuals at the moment. I'll only call up those who deserve to be included. That's always been the way I've worked, regardless of anyone's reputation. So basically those who prove to me that they want to play at the tournament will always be welcome.