Not only is Daniele De Rossi a vital cog in experienced coach Marcello Lippi’s Italy line-up, but the AS Roma midfielder’s innate desire to win and tactical ability have made him one of the Azzurri’s most respected figures. A national-team fixture since playing his part in his country’s triumph at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™, De Rossi told of the Italy squad’s confidence in an exclusive interview ahead of South Africa 2010, and spoke of their determination to defend their world crown. Daniele, what’s your verdict on the route Italy took to South Africa 2010?
Daniele De Rossi: We had a great qualifying campaign and were able to clinch our place with a game to spare. We had some tough games like the Bulgaria match in Turin and the one against Montenegro, though the matches against Ireland were the hardest. It’s hard to judge the first of those because we went a man down early on and that changed everything. We scored a goal and spent the rest of the game sitting back and defending. We played a fair bit better in the second game against them and got the result we needed.

What were the reasons behind this success?
I think that Italy’s biggest secret is the group of players that we have. It’s the same core as the one that won the World Cup and which played at the last EURO, which we didn’t win but only went out against eventual champions Spain on penalties. It’s true that during qualifying several very talented youngsters were brought in, but that hasn’t changed our mentality. We’ve still got the same attitude we had before and that’s what has led to our recent successes.

What’s your opinion on Group F, the section you have been drawn in at South Africa 2010?
At first glance it might look easy, but we know that’s never the case at World Cups. Paraguay were great in qualifying and they finished above Argentina in the standings. We played New Zealand in a friendly before the Confederations Cup (last year) and were really made to struggle before beating them 4-3. Slovakia, meanwhile, are a well-organised European side and have players like Marek Hamsik, who has been outstanding in Serie A. We can’t afford to be overconfident.

Well, not many people are mentioning the altitude in South Africa. We experienced it during the Confederations Cup... That was a huge learning curve for us and now we’re ready to adjust to that difference.

Italy midfielder Daniele De Rossi

On the subject of the FIFA Confederations Cup, what did you learn from South Africa 2009?
Well, not many people are mentioning the altitude in South Africa. We experienced it during the Confederations Cup and it’s a factor that must be taken into account. It’s not the same playing at sea level as it is playing over 1,000 metres up. That was a huge learning curve for us and now we’re ready to adjust to that difference. We also learned that it won’t be enough to merely repeat our level of performance from 2006, given how much teams like Spain, England, Brazil and Argentina have improved since. It’s going to be tough.

Mention is often made of the age of the Italian national squad. Do you think the number of veteran performers could be problem?
It’s true that there are quite a few players over 30, but you have to remember that a World Cup is a short tournament lasting only seven games. A lot of the players who will be in South Africa will probably retire from national-team duty after the tournament, but what matters is that we are in top form both mentally and physically come June. What’s more, we couldn’t have a better coach than Marcello Lippi. He played a vital role at the World Cup four years ago as well as during the period beforehand, when the team’s morale had taken a real hit. He’s fantastic, both as a coach and as a person.

To date, only Italy and Brazil have won two FIFA World Cups in a row. Is this Azzurri squad capable of emulating that feat?
It’ll be incredibly hard, because it’s not enough to just have a great team. You have to be strong, fit and brave, as well as having excellent group spirit and a slice of luck. We know that we can’t improve on what we’ve done before, only match it. Of course we’re very confident, but we know how tough it’s going to be.

Finally, looking ahead to after the tournament, there’s been a lot of talk of you signing for a club outside Italy. Is that part of your plans?
It has crossed my mind and I have wondered what it would be like to play abroad, but to be honest Rome is everything to me: it’s my life. I don’t feel as if I could be happy somewhere else. Obviously you never know what might happen, but at the moment I can’t see myself playing for another club or living somewhere else.