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Materazzi: Italy can reach the semis

Marco Materazzi has backed Italy ahead of the World Cup, and believes the Azzurri are amongst the four best sides that will compete in Brazil.

"Italy are the vice-champions of Europe [having finished runners-up to Spain at Euro 2012], and for me that tournament is a World Cup without Brazil and Argentina,” said Materazzi, speaking to Gazzetta dello Sport.

“Then there are so many variables and always some surprises... but Italy are very strong, trust me," he added.

The 40-year-old, a member of the Italy side who won the 2006 World Cup, went on to say that his countrymen would have the best midfield at the tournament and that a focused Mario Balotelli could be the key to success.

“Perhaps no team has the quality of Italy in midfield," said the former Inter star.

“Indeed, the quality and quantity: Pirlo, Verratti , De Rossi, Thiago Motta, Marchisio. Who has [the quality of] them?

“Pirlo and Verratti are two phenomena with their heads and feet. They want the ball on their feet - the phenomena can always play together," he added.

Italy begin their campaign against England on June 14 before fixtures against Costa Rica and Uruguay on June 20 and June 24.