Veteran Italy star Gianluca Zambrotta insists that growing criticism of the World Champions will only help bind the team together. Azurri have been in poor form in recent times and have found themselves under pressure in the media ahead of their Group F opener against Paraguay in Cape Town. But the AC Milan full-back says that the situation is something they are well used to.
"We're used to the criticism," he said from Italy's Casa Azzurri base, south of Pretoria. "It was the same in 2006, we were unfancied and people didn't even think we'd make the quarter-finals. There are 1,000 critics but we've always performed under criticism, it's not a problem. It brings us closer together and builds our spirit. It's not new, we've always been unfancied at the start and that's fine with us, we'll see what happens. But I'm not thinking about that, I'm thinking only about our first game against Paraguay."
Fiorentina midfielder Riccardo Montolivo, who could be in line to stand in for injured playmaker Andrea Pirlo, who is due to miss the first two group matches with a calf strain, believes that not everyone has written off Italy's chances. "There is scepticism but the fans were very enthusiastic when we left (our training base in) Sestriere and (the airport in) Milan," he said. "This scepticism will help motivate us. We want to transform this lack of faith, we've got even more desire to perform."
Despite the players' claims, the Italian press is concerned about their country's chances and are worried that coach Marcello Lippi has yet to even decide what system he will play, let alone who will play where. Zambrotta claimed that isn't a problem, but did admit that even the players don't know what system they will play.
"There's no confusion in the squad, all 23 players are here and ready for the coach, there's no problems with positions or adapting to new ones," he said. But when asked about the formation he added: "We don't yet know anything, we haven't tried anything yet, we just arrived yesterday (Wednesday). But I'm sure the gaffer knows how the team will play on Monday. It's not a question about the system because we have many players who can play in different systems. It's all about the preparation."
Following their opening clash against Paraguay, Italy will play New Zealand in Nelspruit on 20 June and then Slovakia on 24 June in Johannesburg.