Born to American and Italian parents, Giuseppe Rossi could easily pass as an Argentinian forward, possessing, as he does, a slight build, skilful repertoire and impressive pace. Yet despite being the antithesis of the physically imposing attackers so typical of Italian football, Rossi is in no doubt about which flag he prefers to fly on the pitch: “As a boy, I dreamed of playing for Italy. I feel Italian.”
Rossi is one of the best young forwards in an Italy squad normally associated with defensive solidity and which shares many similarities to the one that lifted the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™. “There’s always pressure,” he told FIFA.com. “You just have to try to put it to one side. It’s all for the good of the team. As a forward, my responsibility is to score goals. If I’m not able to do that, the least I can do is to try to assist in some other way.”
Despite having been included in his country’s squad for the FIFA Confederations Cup last year, the Villarreal forward remains guarded as to his potential participation at South Africa 2010, preferring not to take anything for granted. “My prime objective is to make the squad and be able to play a part," he said. "Once that’s achieved, it’s no longer a question of personal goals - what matters are those of the group.”
An age-old tactic
Rossi admitted that the experience gained at South Africa 2009 helped him to find his place in the group and provided him with the opportunity to score his first goals for the full international side. There was also the small matter of a match against USA, whose colours he could have been representing had he not politely declined their advances a few years back.
“It was a poignant moment when I received a call-up from the USA," he explained. "I remain very grateful to them that they thought that highly of me. On top of that, they’re a great team, and they’re improving very, very quickly." This was all too evident during last summer’s tournament, where the Stars and Stripes eventually finished as runners-up.
A large part of the current group played at Germany 2006. They know how to deal with the pressures of winning such a prestigious competition. If we can tap into their experience, we stand a good chance of winning it again.
The top scorer at the Men's Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008 makes no secret of the fact that Italy’s results at the FIFA Confederations Cup left a little to be desired, but is confident that his country’s second trip within a year to the African continent will be more productive. As justification for this self-belief, Rossi cites a quality often used to criticise Marcello Lippi’s teams: age.
“A large part of the current group played at Germany 2006," said the New Jersey-born marksman. "They know how it’s done and how to deal with the pressures of winning such a prestigious competition. If we can tap into their experience, we stand a good chance of winning it again."
Rossi is one of only two current internationals playing abroad [Liverpool’s Alberto Aquilani being the other], which offers him a broader perspective on Italy’s chances. His present employment within a Spanish club also leaves him well-placed to pass comment on Vicente del Bosque’s successful La Roja team. He leaves absolutely no doubt, however, as to which country he sees as the favourite to win in South Africa.
“Everyone talks about Spain and that’s understandable," he said. "They’ve got some very good players. They all have great control and they pass the ball around well. But let’s not forget that we are currently in possession of the Trophy, and we’d like it to remain that way.
The general opinion in Spain is that Italy are a top side. Because of their style of play, they’re difficult to get the better of.
“The general opinion in Spain is that Italy are a top side. Because of their style of play, they’re difficult to get the better of. I recall that, when my Villarreal team-mates who’d been selected for Spain came back from EURO 2008, they told me that their trickiest match was the quarter-final win over Italy.”
The path to another FIFA World Cup Final will not be easy. But difficulties are nothing new for Rossi. Aside from the challenges posed by Paraguay, New Zealand and Slovakia, who all lie in wait for Italy in Group F, Rossi has just been through an extremely tough 12 months. First and foremost, there was the death of his father after a long battle with illness. And on a professional level, there was a mediocre season at Villarreal to contend with, which included two changes of coach in under a year.
Nevertheless, reflecting his club side’s recent improvement, the only way is up now for the Azzurri attacker, and he will not miss the opportunity to test this theory in South Africa should it come his way.