Italy coach Marcello Lippi said on Wednesday that it was no concern to him that his reigning world champions are not among the favourites for glory at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
Speaking at a press conference from Italy's Casa Azzurri, just south of Pretoria, the FIFA World Cup-winning coach said it was nothing new for Italy to be taken lightly. And he insisted that his is not an aged and creaking team.
"We're not the oldest team here, there are three or four teams that are older than us," said the 62-year-old. "We've got a good mix, we have nine players from 2006, that's less than 50 per cent. But I've never seen another team that's won the last World Cup to turn up with 23 different players the next time.
"We've got old players but age doesn't mean broken down, it means experience, charisma," the coach added. "We're used to matches at a high level, we have the right mix with our young players. Italy has never been amongst the favourites, I don't remember a World Cup where we've been favourites.
"The favourites are rightly Brazil and Spain, but you also have to add other strong teams to the mix," Lippi went on. "I've said it many times before, there's Brazil, Spain and then five or six other teams, such as England, Holland, Germany, Italy and France, that don't go just to do well, they go to win and want to win. Sometimes they manage it and we've won it four times. But a World Cup is special, it's not always technical ability that decides who wins, there are other things."
Lippi also defended his decision to keep AC Milan midfielder Andrea Pirlo in his 23-man squad despite suffering a calf strain. Pirlo will not be fit before Italy's third group game but despite bringing along a 24th player, in Cagliari's Andrea Cossu, Lippi is unwilling to let his playmaker go.
"He's here because the team doctors said he will be ready by the third game," said Lippi. "If you remember, in Germany we had two players who weren't fit at the beginning in Gennaro Gattuso and Gianluca Zambrotta. If he can't play we'll play someone else. Of course Pirlo's absence is important but we've got great desire to go as far as possible, all the way if possible, and Pirlo will be there in the latter stages."
Gaffer not worried
Lippi defended his tactics and claimed that his team's poor form in warm-up matches would be overcome. The Azzurri lost to Mexico before being held to a draw by Switzerland, who had just lost to Costa Rica.
"I have clear ideas but we need to transform them onto the pitch, which we haven't done yet because we've had problems and injuries," he said. "I want to have a more compact defence which will allow us to have two or three players up front. A good defence isn't enough, you have to have three players up front to exploit your capabilities."
The veteran coach, who won five league titles and the UEFA Champions League with Juventus before guiding Italy to FIFA World Cup glory in 2006, said he is relishing this challenge. "I'm not nervous, I'm 62 years old and I've been doing this for 30 years," he said. "I've never had tension, these are the best moments, it's great to prepare for such an important tournament."
Italy begin their Group F campaign against Paraguay in Cape Town on 14 June before matches against New Zealand and Slovakia.