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Confederations Cup Preview: Italy

The four-time World Champions have a rich tradition of footballing excellence backing them ahead of this year's Confederations Cup, but this will be the first time they feature in the continental tournament following their win at the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany.

Italy has been drawn into Group B, the more difficult of the two groups, with Brazil, USA, and Egypt making up the opponents for Marcello Lippi's men. Against Brazil, the Italians have a fierce historical rivalry, with countless classic encounters between the world superpowers coming to mind at an array of World Cup matches. Italy have a good record against African sides, and are not expected to struggle against Egypt, but an unpredictable US team could pose a troublesome threat.

Lippi is expected to bring a couple of youngsters to South Africa, testing out a few new line ups and allowing some key new players to gain international experience ahead of the 2010 World Cup. The base of the squad will be present a year later at the showpiece event.

How they got here: 2006 FIFA World Cup Champions


The Azzurri beat France on penalties in the 2006 final to win their fourth World Cup. A fine tournament saw the Italians remain unbeaten throughout the event, knocking out the likes of Australia, Ukraine and Germany on the way to victory against traditional rivals France.

Coach: Marcello Lippi

The former Juventus coach was at the helm during the victorious World Cup competition three years ago, but he left the squad straight after the tournament, before returning in the aftermath of a failed Euro 2008 campaign under Roberto Donadoni. The experienced tactician has since equalled the world record feat of 31 consecutive games unbeaten, but he was unable to go one better and snatch the record on his own following a friendly loss to Brazil in February.  

The Team

The bulk of the Italian squad plies their trade in Serie A, with a few players involved in Spain's La Liga, the German Bundesliga and France's Ligue 1. A large contingent come from three of Italy's main club teams, Milan, Roma and Juventus.

Italy boast one of the world's best goalkeepers in Juventus stalwart Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus). The number one has been the difference for the Italians on countless occasions, as he is capable of some incredible reflex and acrobatic saves in goal for the Azzurri. Buffon also has the benefit of a technically strong defence comprising of captain Fabio Cannavaro (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Alessandro Gamberini (Fiorentina) and Nicola Legrottaglie (Juventus), as well as youngster Davide Santon (Inter Milan) and Gianluca Zambrotta (Milan) on the flanks. In recent games the back line has shown some weakness, but the Italians have always been know for their strong defence, and they will surely attempt to continue that tradition in South Africa.   

The Azzurri have an enterprising and talented midfield, peppered with skilled creators and tough tackling ball winners, there is no shortage of class when one considers that Andrea Pirlo (Milan), Daniele De Rossi (Roma), Mauro Camoranesi (Juventus) and Riccardo Montolivo (Fiorentina) all play for the same national team. The likes of Gennaro Gattuso (Milan) add steel to the centre of the park, while many other world class players are on the fringes of the national side, waiting for a chance to show their worth.

Up front, the Italians are more blessed than they have been in quite some time, with a host of stars adding to the firepower of the world champions with the Confederations Cup fast approaching. A new wave of top class youngsters is being led by Giuseppe Rossi (Villarreal). Luca Toni (Bayern Munich), Alberto Gilardino (Fiorentina), Vincenzo Iaquinta (Juventus) and Fabio Quagliarella (Udinese) provide the national side with a selection of proven goal scorers. 

Rising Star: Giuseppe Rossi

The former Manchester United front man has won only a handful of caps for the Azzurri, coming on as a substitute for the most part, but his short time on the pitch has always been impressive and it seems that he is being groomed for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Many pundits and fans in the peninsula are hoping that Rossi can become the next Italian hero after the likes of Roberto Baggio and Alessandro Del Piero, who have shone on the world stage, while his quick adaptation to the national team has impressed Lippi and the staff of the Azzurri. The American-born 22-year-old has shown great composure while using his talent and ability to make dangerous runs towards goal, setting up others and creating chances for himself.

Confederations Cup History

2009 – Debut tournament

 
Prospects

As one of the world's footballing superpowers, Italy always have one aim at the major competitions, and that is to take home the trophy. The Azzurri have arguably one of the best sides around, and their billing as world champions will be on the line come June. One senses that a place in the final would be a respectable target for the Italians, but the title will definitely be the Azzurri's main aim.

Peter Pedroncelli, Goal.com