Among the many national coaches attending the recent FIFA Team Workshop in Sun City was Italy supremo Marcello Lippi. Impeccably dressed as always and with not a hair out of place, the former Juventus boss was his usual affable self at the gathering, blending sharp observations with a sprinkling of humorous asides.
When he returns to South Africa with his squad in June the silver-haired strategist has a chance to become only the second coach to win back-to-back FIFA World Cup™ Finals, the first being his fellow countryman Vittorio Pozzo, who guided Italy to glory in 1934 and 1938.
“I don’t see why I can’t do that,” he tells FIFA.com in a defiant tone. “That’s what we’re coming here to do in June: to win and take the Trophy home with us again. I’m not worried about any of our rivals,” he continues. “If we can apply everything we know out on the pitch, then we’ll have the chance to show what we’re capable of and go on and win the competition again.”
Yet despite his bullish talk, the pragmatic Lippi does not believe his side should be ranked among the leading favourites. “Brazil and Spain are the teams to beat, without question,” he says. “We’re in the next group along with France, England, Argentina and Netherlands. They are all sides that believe they can win whenever they go the World Cup.”
Before they get there, however, the Italians have a series of warm-up matches to negotiate, starting with Wednesday’s friendly against Cameroon in Monaco. With two months still to go before the squad meets up for their South Africa 2010 training camp, Lippi admits that only a few places in the 23-man pool remain up for grabs. “I’ve already got 17 players in mind,” he says. “I need to find another six. I haven’t told anyone whether they’re in the squad or not yet. Some of them will have a pretty good idea I suppose, though you never know.”
Unflappable as ever, Lippi says he will not be losing any sleep over his selection conundrum: “Selecting the last few players won’t be difficult at all. Why should it be? I’ve got some fantastic footballers to choose from.”
A familiar feeling
Having taken his side to the FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009 last June, the 61-year-old tactician knows what to expect when the first world finals to be staged on African soil get under way.
“This is my third time here,” he says. “I haven’t seen much of the country because I’ve always been here for tournaments and official events. But it helps having played here before because we know what to expect, and I think the conditions will be perfect for good football. It’ll be about 15 degrees during the day and just a little bit cooler at night.”
Lippi’s second trip to the Rainbow Nation came last December when he attended the Final Draw in Cape Town, a city he describes as “very beautiful – especially in summer." “And now we’re here, in this very special Las Vegas [a reference to Sun City],” he continues in typically light-hearted vein.
When the subject turns to his expectations for the big event, however, he adopts a more analytical tone. “Obviously everyone is working very hard to make the most of this opportunity to host the World Cup. A lot of very hard work has already gone in to making sure it’s a success and there’s no doubt in my mind we’re going to see a great tournament.”
Positioned just a matter of yards away is compatriot and colleague Fabio Capello, the coach of an England side that Lippi has already singled out as his preferred opponents in the Final on 11 July. “I was joking when I said that, though I do believe both sides have a good chance of getting that far. Have we spoken about it here? Of course we have. We’ve been joking about it, but in a positive way.”
Asked about his chances of emulating his fabled predecessor Pozzo, Lippi offers a typically measured response: “I didn’t expect to be in this position when I left the job in 2006, but I don’t want to make too much of it either. All I care about is doing things properly, matching the expectations of our fans and giving them something else they can celebrate.”