Italy and Australia are poles apart culturally, geographically, and in terms of footballing pedigree. The Australians are taking part in only their second FIFA World Cup finals. Italy, in contrast, are three-times world champions. Yet the fact that so many of the Socceroos ply their trade in Europe - a number of them in Serie A (Vince Grella, Marco Bresciano and Zeljko Kalac) - has reduced the gap between the two nations and makes the encounter much less enigmatic than it might appear.
Italy and Australia will play for a place in the quarter-finals of the FIFA World Cup in Kaiserslautern on Monday (kick-off 17:00 CET). Both sides played a group game at the Fritz-Walter-Stadion , and will therefore have some familiarity with their surroundings, albeit from very different viewpoints. Italy will be looking to exorcise memories of a difficult, battling draw against the USA, whereas the Australians will have fond memories of the city that served as the backdrop to their epic and crucial comeback against Japan.
Italy: White shirts, blue shorts and white socks
Australia: Gold shirts, green shorts and gold socks
Marcello Lippi's Italy came top of a group that was recognised as one of the toughest at these finals, beating Ghana in their opening fixture and drawing a tough encounter with the USA before knocking the Czech Republic out of the tournament.
Morale is therefore sky-high in the Azzurri camp going into the showdown with the Socceroos, particularly in view of the fact that their half of the draw does not look particularly hazardous, making a Final appearance seem a distinct possibility.
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Not everything in the Italy camp is rosy, however. Coach Lippi will have to do without promising young midfielder Daniele De Rossi, who was suspended after being sent off against the USA, and classy defender Alessandro Nesta, who has been ruled out with a muscle strain. Marco Materazzi, goalscorer and Budweiser Man of the Match against the Czechs, should step into the breach.
The rest of the squad have all been passed fit, and Lippi's thoughts will be focused on his strikers, with a particular emphasis on Francesco Totti. The coach will have to decide whether to keep faith with the Roma playmaker, or restore Luca Toni to the starting line-up. Another alternative would be Filippo Inzaghi, scorer of the second goal against the Czechs.
Australia battled through the group stage, securing their passage to the Round of 16 with a 2-2 draw in their final match against Croatia. Prior to that, the Socceroos had made a stirring comeback against Japan and lost to Brazil .
The Australians will also be in good spirits, having qualified from the group stage in a FIFA World Cup for the first time in their history. Their coach Guus Hiddink, who engineered Italy's second round exit at the Korea/Japan 2002 as manager of Korea Republic, must replace the suspended Brett Emerton but can otherwise field his strongest formation now that Harry Kewell, Budweiser Man of the Match against Croatia, appears to have fully recovered.
The Australia coach has kept a low profile in the build-up to the match, stating simply that Italy are the overwhelming favourites. However, given Hiddink's record, the Socceroos will surely take the field filled with belief that an upset is on the cards. It will be tough for the Azzurri, but the task facing the Australians should not be underestimated either, as Italy have gone 22 FIFA World Cup matches undefeated in normal and extra time (not counting penalty shoot-outs).
De Rossi (ITA)
Italy and Australia have only met once before, at the 2000 Olympic Football Tournament. The match was played in Melbourne and was settled by an 81st-minute Andrea Pirlo goal. Of the current squad, Rino Gattuso and Gianluca Zambrotta also played that day, against seven of the current Australian crop: Stan Lazaridis, Josip Skoko, Emerton, Mark Viduka, Grella, Bresciano and Jason Culina.
Alberto Gilardino v Harry Kewell
The young Italian centre-forward is the only striker who has kept his place up front amid Lippi's chopping and changing. With one FIFA World Cup goal to his name, scored against the USA, Gilardino has shown that he is capable of leading the line on his own with Totti pulling the strings behind him. He worked hard for the team against the Czech Republic, but will view the game against Australia as his chance for glory.
Kewell is the danger man in Guus Hiddink's side, in spite of his indifferent form so far. Sitting on the bench for his side's second match against Brazil evidently hurt the Liverpool man's pride. Restored to the side for the Croatia game, the flying winger responded with an excellent display that was capped by the crucial equaliser.
What they're saying
Mark Viduka, Australia captain: Italy are obviously a great side. They are very experienced at this level, and will be tough to play against. But we're on top of our game and are playing every match as if it were a final.
Simone Perrotta, Italy midfielder: Australia are like the USA, but with more quality, particularly going forward. Mark Viduka is a very strong centre-forward. They have a good team.