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Jan Alsos is the editor and webmaster of Planet World Cup.

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Italy to win it



    June 30th 2002, Paolo Maldini crowns his wonderful career by holding the beautiful FIFA World Cup aloft after winning the final in Yokohama in his last international appearance. Can you imagine this scenario to come true? We at WCA can for sure because we pick Italy as our World Cup winners this summer.

    We could easily have picked France or Argentina. Most people would probably stick with one of those instead because they are widely regarded as the hottest favourites with the strongest squads player by player. But favourites seldom win the title and will struggle to do so this year more than ever. Especially because both these teams have a remarkably tougher route to the Yokohama final drawn in the more difficult half of the tournament schedule. Besides, France winning three major tournaments in a row in the most competitive sport in the world borders to unlikely no matter how strong they are. No team has ever accomplished that before.

    Argentina are strong enough on paper to win, but Batistuta's generation has always underachieved in World Cups. Moreover, being hyped up as they have been recently is never an advantage. Impressive performances in qualification doesn't guarantee success in the World Cup. Just ask Spain. England might surprise and go far, but winning the whole tournament? Nah. Brazil are always at their best in tournaments and shouldn't be written off, but are no longer the force they were a few years ago. Spain have always been the opposite of Italy: Impressive in qualifications, disappointing in tournaments. Portugal have a knack of doing well in the few tournaments they qualify for and could be a dark horse. Germany then? Nowotny, Ballack, Jancker...naah. Hardly championship winning material. We landed on Italy in the end. There are a lot of factors pointing in direction of success for the Azzurri. Letís start on the bench.

    In Giovanni Trapattoni the Italians have a coach who knows everything about winning. The winning mentality has been in his blood forever and he has experienced success in more or less every club he has been in charge of. His teams have always been solid at the back and Italy this year is no difference. Trapattoni has all the tools he needs in this talented squad to make them champions. He has kept his enthusiasm and developed his views on the game with time and enjoyed success over many years, not only a short spell in one club. Trap may be old, but he is an enormous capacity from the good old Italian school. Players who have struggled to blossom under other national team coaches (i.e. Del Piero) now have success under his guidance. The team couldn't be in better hands.

    Italy arrive at the World Cup with a 23-man squad containing equally much strength in attack as everywhere else in the team. This is very rare for Italy. While they in previous World Cups have relied exclusively on rock solid defence, hard working midfield and only one potential matchwinning striker up front with instinct for scoring (Rossi 82, Schillaci 90, Baggio 94), now a number of top names have emerged to give Italy more depth than usual in attack both in the creator role (Totti, Del Piero etc) and as finishers (Vieri, Inzaghi, Montella etc). Most of them seem to be on form at the same time for their clubsides and have had success during the World Cup qualifiers with Trapattoni's playing system.

    Italy will land in Asia better equipped than ever up front if these players remain fit. Earlier Italian World Cup editions have had mediocre players like Carnevale, Massaro and Serena as forwards and still achieved a Top 3 position. Now with improved attacking power, Italy will become a major force in the quest for the title. We saw signs at Euro 2000 and that was still with a Francesco Totti under development, a struggling Del Piero and without Christian Vieri.

    With Croatia, Ecuador and Mexico in the preliminary group, Italy won't need to fire on all cylinders to go through. They never do anyway. The team is expected to improve for every game in true Italian tradition. Trapattoniís men have ended up on the easier half of the tournament set-up which means they wonít need to play Argentina, England, France or Brazil until the final no matter if they finish first or second in the opening round.

    The bad trend of losing on penalties was broken at the Euro 2000 semifinal against Holland and that is of course mentally important for a team that has been eliminated three World Cups in a row on penalties. Now they have regained confidence from the spot should they be asked to step up again.

    There is also an increased hunger for international success after Italian clubsí failure in European Cups in recent years. Mix this hunger with Italian defensive strength, determination, great traditions and increased firepower up front and you have a perfect recipe to win the World Cup. On paper. We think they'll make it on the field as well - 20 years after those sunny weeks in Spain.




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