Looking as elegant as ever, Marcello Lippi is clearly enjoying being back at the Italian national team helm, if the mischievous glint in his eyes is anything to go by. Determined not to rest on the laurels of the Azzurri's triumph at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™, the experienced strategist insists he has "not come back just to win, but to recreate the conditions that enabled us to triumph in Germany".
And in the wake of the Azzurrini's shock quarter-final exit from August's Men's Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008 at the hands of Belgium, Lippi chose to highlight that his Germany 2006 side was "the last Italian national side to bring back a trophy. That's a revealing reflection of Italy, a nation which boasts highly talented individuals who find it hard to give their all when playing for their country."
The former Juventus and Inter Milan tactician also made mention of the recent award of the FIFA World Champions Badge. "We are, as of this week, the first country to be able to wear the FIFA Badge on our shirts, which underlines that we're the defending champions," said Lippi. "That should serve to remind us what the winning formula is. If we want to relive the emotions we felt in Berlin, it's vital we take Saturday's match with Cyprus seriously. There are no easy matches."
Though determined to recreate the spirit that took his side to victory two summers ago, Lippi insists he will not show any favouritism: "The heroes of Berlin won't receive any special treatment. To play in the national team you need to deserve it, even when it comes to players like (Alessandro) Del Piero."
Cannavaro and Toni back in the fold
After an under-strength side fought back from two goals down to grab a 2-2 friendly draw with Austria in Nice on 20 August, Lippi has welcomed back several big names into his 22-man squad. For the Nazionale Azzurra's first two matches in Group 8 of European qualifying for South Africa 2010, against Cyprus and Georgia on 6 and 10 September respectively, the Italy supremo will be able to count on captain Fabio Cannavaro (Real Madrid), keeper Morgan De Sanctis (Galatasaray), up-and-coming young talent Alessandro Gamberini (Fiorentina) and attacking focal point Luca Toni (Bayern Munich).
Missing through injury will be Simone Perrotta (AS Rome), Riccardo Montolivo (Fiorentina) and Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), while Inter Milan stalwart Marco Materazzi is rested, though he remains "part of the squad".
Sampdoria's unpredictable forward Antonio Cassano failed to make the cut, as did AC Milan vice-captain Massimo Ambrosini. "I had to make choices. And moreover, I'm not going to explain to you every time why I haven't called up such and such a player," said the fiery coach. Lippi also reiterated that he would have included both Montolivo and Villarreal forward Giuseppe Rossi "if they'd been available".
"I'm sticking to my plan to gradually integrate certain young players. In contrast to Fabio Capello, who can only choose from the 38 per cent of English players in the Premier League, I'm fortunate enough to be able to pick from 60 per cent of the players in Serie A."
‘The players must put the team first'
Lippi has already brought in six new faces compared to Roberto Donadoni's squad for UEFA EURO 2008. These are forward pair Alberto Gilardino (Fiorentina) and Vincenzo Iaquinta (Juventus), defenders Daniele Bonera (AC Milan), Marco Cassetti (Rome) and Andrea Dossena (Liverpool) and midfielder Angelo Palombo (Sampdoria).
It is clear therefore that the supremo intends to rebuild his defensive line as well as reorganise the Azzurri midfield. And though Italy are clear favourites to win their qualifying group, Lippi has warned his charges against any damaging complacency. "I will ask all my players to put the team first. That is what matters most; the tactics will come later." All that remains now is to see if the Nazionale respond to the urgings of their returning master.