Defending champions Italy will naturally be one of the leading contenders to emerge triumphant at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ South Africa. The only country along with Brazil to have won the tournament twice in succession, Marcello Lippi's men will be vying to match the performance of their pioneering predecessors in 1934 and 1938.
The road to South Africa
The Azzurri topped Group 8 thanks to their traditional efficiency and pragmatism, even if they failed to set the continent alight along the way. In total, they recorded seven wins and three draws, firing 18 goals and conceding seven.
Italy set the pace in their section right from the off with an opening-day 2-1 victory over Cyprus, and after that result took them to the summit they remained there. It nonetheless took them until their penultimate encounter to seal their passage. Intriguingly, the generations that claimed the world title in 1982 and 2006 also booked their tickets with one match to spare.
Alberto Gilardino finished top scorer for Lippi's team with four strikes to his name, including a stunning hat-trick in less than 15 minutes to down Cyprus 3-2 in their final outing.
The star players
Billed for a number of years now as one of the finest goalkeepers on the planet, at 31 Gianluigi Buffon remains one of the two pillars of the Italian defence. His spectacular reflexes to keep out a Zinedine Zidane header in extra time during the 2006 Final illustrated just why he has an undisputed claim on the gloves.
The other leader at the back is none other than evergreen captain Fabio Cannavaro. Now 36, the 2006 FIFA World Player of the Year continues to contribute his superb positioning sense and the vast experience of his 130 caps.
In midfield, tireless tackler Gennaro Gattuso no longer needs any introduction. The 31-year-old is still the motor, battler and all-round talent at the heart of the Azzurri line-up, the man who never admits defeat and whose hunger for victory inspires all those around him.
A veritable monarch in the field of coaching, 61-year-old Marcello Lippi is an expert at making changes that yield results, with no fewer than five of the 12 goals Italy registered at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany coming from substitutes. The man with more than an air of Paul Newman has won everything in his career, which is precisely why he called time on his first stint as Italy trainer on 12 July 2006, having clinched the global crown. After the Azzurri floundered at UEFA EURO 2008, however, he did not need much persuasion to return to the role, and he immediately set about rebuilding the defence, remodelling the midfield and trying out a fresh crop of forwards. He puts little stock in his landmark 31 consecutive international matches without defeat, preferring to amass titles than statistics, and his natural feel for the game means his tactical decisions are never called into doubt. For the qualifiers, he called up a total of 36 players, with Cannavaro and full-back Gianluca Zambrotta the players most used (810 minutes each).
Previous FIFA World Cups
Italy have qualified for 16 of the 18 FIFA World Cup finals, failing to book themselves a place in 1958 and having not opted to take part in the first edition in 1930. They have won the competition on four occasions, in 1934, 1938, 1982 and four years ago in 2006. They also finished runners-up in 1970 and 1994 and claimed third place on home soil in 1990.
- 4 FIFA World Cups (1934, 1938, 1982, 2006)
- 1 UEFA European Championship (1968)
- 1 Olympic Football Tournament (1936)
What they said
"No team is superior to Italy. I don't want to say that we're better than everyone, but you might say that we're not inferior to any other team," Marcello Lippi, coach.