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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The FIFA World Cup Team Runthrough Thread #3 For 6/11/14: #10 Italy

Photo from Getty Images Europe 

Projected Formation: 

                     Buffon 

Abate - Bouncci - Chiellini - De Sciglio 

                        De Rossi 
         Verratti/Motta        Pirlo 

Candreva                                  Marchiso   

                        Balotelli   

Key Bench Options: Immobile, Motta, Insigne, Barzagli, Parolo, Aquilani, Cerci 

The Runthrough

A surprising runner up finish at Euro 2012 and a relatively smooth qualifying campaign for the four time world champions Italy hasn't stopped intense pressure from being placed onto the shoulders of manager Cesare Prandelli. 

The criticism from the Italian press and fans have come after another lethargic friendly performance of many throughout the years from Italy, a 1-1 draw in the home sendoff to Luxembourg of all teams. Fans are calling for Prandelli to give new Borussia Dortmund prized signing Ciro Immobile the starting nod over Mario Balotelli, while further concerns are placed on whether Andrea Pirlo has the legs to have one more magical tournament. 

With an England side wanting revenge for being knockout on penalties in Poland/Ukraine 2012 and a cagey Uruguay outlet playing on continental soil, Italy will need nothing more than their best to progress to just the Round of 16. 

A record breaking Serie A season for Juventus backfield stars Gigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bouncci, Andrea Barzagli and the aforementioned Pirlo was overshadowed by shaky performances in the Champions League this season and makes the Italian backline a little bit of question mark. Injuries to Milan fullbacks Mattia De Sciglio and Ignazio Abate throughout the season have placed questions with them, especially the 27-year-old right back lack of good form and playing time at the end of the season. 

Further up the field, Andrea Candreva  is firmly deserving of starting after a carer season with Lazio despite still searching for his first international goal. A 12 goals, 6 assists production could lead to the Lazio man being the unsung star man of this side, especially in comparison to the campaign Claudio Marchisio endured. With Paul Pogba placing him out of the Scudetto 3-peat winners starting lineup, Marchisio had to fight for his place all season and needs a good tournament to regain his confidence. 

Overshadowed in Roma this season by Miralem Pjanic, Daniel De Rossi could be playing in his final World Cup and will hope to show he has that world class ability still very much in him. The 30-year-old has formed quite the synergy with Pirlo but may have to do more this time around that just being an enforcer, as the 35-year old deep lying playmaking legend seems to finally be feeling the effects of a long European season. Pirlo's great Euro 2012 revival was helped immensely by not having to play in any UEFA club competitions. Another 40 plus game campaign and two more years in age will make the test to perform to his great pinnacle level all the more challenging. 

But this Italian team leaves the depths of mediocrity and reaches the heights of prosperity when Balotelli plays up to his massive talent. That was on full display in that Euro 2012 semifinal against Germany where they weren't expected to win, scoring that fantastic goal and showing the world his impressive physique. It's not like Balotelli had a bad season, sometimes carrying a dysfunctional AC Milan club at times with both his stunning long range shooting and underrated ability to be a target forward playmaker. But as always with the capricious 23-year-old talent, his mentality and desire to be great is never consistent and why Immobile truly threatens his staring lone forward place. 

Balotelli is fortunate that long term injuries to snake bitten talents Giseuppe Rossi and his Milan teammate Stephen El Shaarawy didn't threaten his inclusion into Prandelli's 23. But Immobile's great emergence certainly is giving his once solid starting nod a real worry. Although the now former Torino man lacks the great pace Balotelli has, Immobile has everything else in a top class striker. A tremendous season at the top of the Serie A charts featured all 22 of his goals not coming from the penalty spot. Although he only has two caps to his name due to being a bust in his youth days of Juventus, no negative comments can be found on Immobile nowadays and could see himself be the Luca Toni of 2014. 

The battle to be the third man in central starting midfield for Prandelli will come down to PSG teammates Thiago Motta and Marco Verratti. Experience favors the 31-year-old converted Brazilian, but Verratti's youthful energy at just 21 years of age could see get the nod, especially when going against the youthful buzz of England that Prandelli will have to manage against. Verratti has undergone plenty of learning curves over the last year with the Ligue 1 champions, featuring more in big Champions Leagues and still seeing how much room for improvement is left in his game. The youngest member of the squad certainly could close the gap on that with a fine breakthrough World Cup. 

Another young wild card in this side is Lorenzo Insigne, who probably would have been on the squad even if Rossi and El Shaarawy were in good enough condition to go.  As with De Sciglio, Balotelli, and Verratti, Insigne has more maturity to gain but his dynamic abilities to run at defenders and feature a fierce right foot will never be lacking. A good season of play under Rafa Benitez at Napoli brings the inside winger into a real surprise choice who could enthrall crowds. Although Immobile's Torino striker partner Alessio Cerci and the still relevant 31-year-old Antonio Cassano will contend for time, Insigne's pace and trickery could see him get valuable minutes before them. 

The likes of Florentina smooth midfielder Alberto Aquilani and World Cup squad debutants Matteo Darmian, Gabriel Paletta, and Marco Parolo will find time hard to come by, while Salvatore Sirigu is an effective backup for Buffon. Some thought the PSG netminder could have replaced Buffon as the starter. Instead, the 36-year-old stoic figure keeps his place and will be counted on to add to his legacy with timely saves and decision making.  

Italy always have a propensity to put aside their questionable play in friendlies and be an elite tournament team. But that aspect was completely shattered four years ago, where the squad was too limited and almost lost to New Zealand in an embarrassing exit out of the tournament in the 1st Round. 

They've recovered superbly in Euro 2012 and the time being, but Prandelli will have to get things right from the start and prevent the listless display found in South Africa 2010 and the latest string of friendlies. The margins are that short for Italy, both for another major success or catastrophic failure. 

Under The Radar, Key Players: 

Candreva: While the veteran World Cup winning legends and rising young stars get all the shine, the Lazio man could be the one to help propel his nation this time around. He was the bright spot in a gloomy season for the blue capital club and will be desperate for a major breakthrough on the international stage. 
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