Champions Italy insist they have the right mix of youth and experience to successfully defend the FIFA World Cup™, but there are lingering concerns ahead of a tough opener against Paraguay on Monday.
In a group that also contains Slovakia and New Zealand, Paraguay shape up as Italy's hardest test, but their preparations have been far from ideal with a defeat to Mexico and a draw with the Swiss, which has seen the ageing squad come under pressure from the Italian media.
In a better display, they beat local team the Guateng All Stars 6-0 in a practice match on Friday with Marcello Lippi giving his clearest indication yet of what his starting XI and formation will be - playing what seemed to be his top side for one hour in a 4-3-3 system.
The defence comprised Gianluca Zambrotta and Domenico Criscito flanking captain Fabio Cannavaro and Giorgio Chiellini in the centre ahead of Gianluigi Buffon. With Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi rested with injuries, Gennaro Gattuso joined Riccardo Montolivo and Claudio Marchisio in midfield with Vincenzo Iaquinta and Simone Pepe either side of Alberto Gilardino up front.
The ice-cool Lippi, who delivered a fourth world championship to the country in 2006, is unconcerned about their form, or worries that the squad is too old. "We've got old players but age doesn't mean broken down, it means experience, charisma," he said. "We're used to matches at a high level, we have the right mix with our young players."
Captain Cannavaro, who will retire after the tournament, admitted the defence needed to be at its best to keep out Paraguay. "Defence is vital, but that doesn't mean we'll stay in our own half of the pitch," said the 36-year-old. "It means being compact. We'll never play an attacking game like Brazil, Portugal or Spain but they'll never be able to defend like us."
Paraguay look to be in great shape, having beaten Brazil and Argentina in qualifying. They can no longer be considered minnows, having reached their fourth straight finals, and their Argentinian coach Gerardo Martino is confident his front line can deliver the goals to beat Italy.
"Now there is so much variety in the attack of Paraguay, who have never had this amount," he said. "In the past it has been attacking, but not like now - alongside Haedo (Valdez) and Santa Cruz there is Oscar Cardozo and Lucas Barrios. This is a team that is more complete than Paraguay teams of the past. Hopefully we can make it the best World Cup for Paraguay."