Italy coach Marcello Lippi claims his team are growing in confidence and can thrive even without their biggest stars. The champions made an indifferent start to their FIFA World Cup™ defence in South Africa as they were held to a 1-1 draw by Paraguay in their Group F opener on Monday.
Playmaker Andrea Pirlo missed that match with a calf injury and remains sidelined while goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon is also out of tomorrow's clash against New Zealand in Nelspruit due to a herniated disc.
Lippi said: "All of these players are very valuable, but if a team starts crying over the ones that are not there, they will not go very far. That is the worst thing they can do. We have equally good and important players who believe in what they are doing.
"In the meantime we will try to get the great players who are absent back with us. This week of work has been very positive and tomorrow I think we will be ready. Without making any predictions, I think we are ready to play a good game. I think the team has grown and we will be able to go out there with greater confidence and we will be able to score."
AC Milan star Pirlo will return to full training next week and could come into contention for the final group game against Slovakia in Johannesburg on June 24. Buffon's absence remains indefinite but Lippi has not given up hope the world's most expensive goalkeeper will be able to feature again in the tournament if Italy progress.
Lippi said: "Pirlo is improving every day. Probably as of Monday he will start getting back into the group and will start to practise on the pitch. I don't know how intensely he will be able to play but as of Monday he is going to be back and I think improvements will be greater. Buffon is getting treatment and his condition is improving day after day. We haven't lost all hope of getting him back."
These difficulties are just the latest in a series of injury problems for Lippi but he feels the squad have coped well with adversity. The 62-year-old said: "We don't have Buffon, we don't have Pirlo. We started with [Giorgio] Chiellini, who was out for 10 days, and we have had problems with [Mauro] Camoranesi and [Claudio] Marchisio.
"It hasn't been a very good beginning from that respect but the important thing is the team believe in each other. The team believes and now this state of mind needs to be transformed into goals on the field."
Federico Marchetti is likely to continue in goal after replacing Buffon against Paraguay but Lippi was otherwise coy about his side to face New Zealand when pressed at his pre-match press conference tonight. Lippi had not been told that just an hour earlier, his New Zealand counterpart Ricki Herbert had revealed he intended to field an unchanged team.
"I don't like to talk about the team the day before a match," he said. "You always ask but I don't like to talk about it. There are so many other subjects to talk about. I don't think there is another coach in the World Cup who the day before the game will tell you what line-up he has in mind."
After claiming a last-gasp draw against Slovakia, New Zealand go into the game in buoyant mood and with little to lose. Victory for the All Whites would be one of the great World Cup shocks and Lippi is taking nothing for granted. "We have a lot to lose," he said. "What is at stake is the next round so we are going to work very hard for sure."