Italy coach Marcello Lippi has dropped the strongest hint yet that the Italian league's best goalscorer will not start tomorrow's FIFA World Cup™ Group F opener with Paraguay. Lippi tonight put his men through their paces in an 11-a-side practice match featuring what seems likely to be his starting XI, before telling the media: "If you don't understand my line-up, you should change your trade."
That team did not feature veteran midfielder Gennaro Gattuso or Udinese forward Antonio Di Natale, far and away the best goalscorer in Serie A last season with 29 goals. Instead, Alberto Gilardino lined up as the central striker with Simone Pepe to his right and Vincenzo Iaquinta out of position on the left. Daniele De Rossi teamed up with Claudio Marchisio in midfield with Riccardo Montolivo in the playmaking role.
When pressed, though, Lippi told journalists: "If you don't understand the kind of line-up I am using, you better change jobs. Come on, what excuse do you have? But I'm not going to tell you, anyway. Let me say once again that I haven't even told the players. If I tell you today, that is not fair. We'll see if you got it right."
I assure you the team are ready to play a great match.
Whether the same XI cross the white line at Cape Town's Green Point Stadium tomorrow remains to be seen. Lippi, though, is happy to draw on his experiences of the victorious 2006 campaign to stay calm amid the media "scepticism".
"I can tell you there is a great will to do well in the tournament ," he said. "The scepticism I respect, although I don't agree with it because it comes from just two friendly matches. It's part of a programme we had and that we knew would lead us here. They were not crucial.
"I don't know what the scepticism is due to. I won't deny that injury prevented me doing certain experiments, but I assure you the team are ready to play a great match. There are no doubts about our preparation."
Lippi's only injury problem is Andrea Pirlo, the chief playmaker still recovering from a calf problem suffered before the tournament. "He is not going to be ready for tomorrow," said the veteran coach. "I'll be happy if he is ready for the third match. I think he'll try to be ready for the second match but I would be happy for the third match."