By Luca Momblano
Claudio Gentile believes that Italy boss Cesare Prandelli must prove he is a winner at this summer's World Cup, arguing that "runners-up are just the first among the losers".
Prandelli took charge after the finals in South Africa four years ago, when the Azzurri suffered a humiliating first-round exit.
The former Fiorentina coach, therefore, earned widespread acclaim for leading the country to the final of Euro 2012 - even though they were routed 4-0 by Spain in the tournament decider in Kiev.
However, Gentile believes that the pressure is now on Prandelli to prove that he is at the same level as Marcello Lippi and Enzo Bearzot, who led Italy to World Cup glory in 2006 and 1982, respectively.
"Prandelli was my team-mate [during their playing days at Juventus]," the former Italy defender told Goal.
"He has a young mentality. I would say that he's more like Lippi than Bearzot. But certainly the moment to prove himself has arrived.
"I was always taught that the runners-up are just the first among the losers. In the long run, nobody remembers them."
Gentile acknowledges, though, that Prandelli does not possess a squad blessed with exciting young players and will instead have to rely on a veteran playmaker and unpredictable striker.
Indeed, when asked to name Italy's key players, the retired full-back stated: "Well, my first answer is very predictable: Andrea Pirlo. When he is no longer there, it will be a big problem.
"I do not expect the youngsters, or at least the emerging players among the squad, to be decisive.
"So, then, if I must give another name, it would be that of Mario Balotelli.
"He's still chasing validation but he has the ability to win games - much more so than his other team-mates."
Gentile, of course, was a key member of the Italy squad that triumphed in Spain in 1982, earning a reputation as one of the best - and most dogged - defenders in the world due to the way in which he shut down both Diego Maradona of Argentina and Brazil No.10 Zico.
"The more difficult was always Maradona because nobody had ever before possessed his unpredictability," the 60-year-old revealed. "You had to be ready for anything.
"Zico was a genuine world-class player but he was a more linear footballer; talented but dedicated to the team."
Gentile also admitted that for him there is no grander stage on which to play on, explaining: "For a player, the World Cup is the pinnacle of his career.
"It means the culmination of a dream, the goal to which every professional spires. There is nothing higher and nothing is comparable.
"When you walk down the street, people will stop you forever just to say thank you; to remind you that they were behind you.
"The national team is like this. If you obtain success, this becomes something eternal," he added.