Population: 58,100,000
Area: 301,230 km²
Capital: Rome
Language: Italian

Italy won UEFA group 5 comfortably five points ahead of Norway.
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Mar 01 Italy v Germany 4-1
May 31 Switzerland v Italy 1-1
Jun 02 Italy v Ukraine 0-0

Participations: (15) 1934, 1938, 1950, 1954, 1962, 1966, 1970, 1974, 1978, 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998 and 2002
Best placing: Winners 1934, 1938 and 1982
Topscorers: Paolo Rossi, Roberto Baggio and Christian Vieri, 9 goals
More detailed history information

Jun 12 - ITA v GHA  in Hannover
Jun 17 - ITA v USA  in Kaiserslautern
Jun 22 - ITA v CZE  in Hamburg

- Italy in Group E -
Jan Alsos: 1st place
Pierre Boisrond: 1st place
Ruud Doevendans: 1st place *
Mike Gibbons: 2nd place
Peter Goldstein: 1st place
Paul Marcuccitti: 2nd place
Felipe Santos: 2nd place
* World Cup winners


by Mike Gibbons

    If Italy don’t win the 2006 World Cup then the events of a grey Sunday in Rome back in February may hold the key as to why. During a 1-0 win over Empoli the Roma captain and national teams’ star player Francesco Totti caught his studs in the turf after a tackle from behind, instantly fracturing his ankle and tearing ligaments in the process. The injury was a disaster for his club, in the midst of a record-breaking string of victories, and also the player himself, in a run of form not dissimilar to his stellar showings at Euro 2000. But will it be a disaster for Italy as well?

    Totti has taken something of a kicking in Serie A all season, and his injury was almost inevitable. The initial prognosis is that he could be out for up to three months – he has an outside shot of returning for the end of the Serie A campaign, although it is more likely he will return for the start of the World Cup, but can he recapture his form in time? It will be an acid test for a player whom coach Marcello Lippi readily admits they have no natural replacement.

    Italy’s route to the World Cup was a relatively smooth one, allowing Lippi to rebuild a team that had underperformed so woefully in Euro 2004 (where Totti disgraced himself by spitting on Christian Poulsen) into a quietly efficient unit that won their group with ease. Outpointing Scotland, Norway, Slovenia, Belarus and Moldova is one thing however, can they now go on to survive one of the toughest groups in the first round against Czech Republic, Ghana and the USA?

    Goalkeeper has never been a problem position for Italy and there are now signs that after a shaky spell after being injured Gianluigi Buffon is returning to form with Juventus, the runaway leaders of Serie A. In front of him are two durable and uncompromising defenders now into their thirties but as formidable as ever, Alessandro Nesta of AC Milan and Fabio Cannavaro of Juventus. Both are guaranteed to start if fit as should Gianluca Zambrotta who plays with Cannavaro at Juventus and also Fabio Grosso of Palermo who has been in the team since Euro 2004. Cover can be provided at full-back by Cristian Zaccardo of Palermo and in the centre by Marco Materazzi of Inter. Whilst their back four will never achieve the legendary status of the 1982 or 1990 back lines, it will be as good if not better than any other defensive unit at the World Cup. Will producing quality defenders ever be a problem for them?

    One area that has been a problem in the last ten years for the Italians has been midfield, often lacking creativity and blamed on the huge influx of attacking midfielders from overseas into Serie A. There are however signs of life now; Andrea Pirlo has emerged as a talent in the AC Milan midfield and will start there alongside club colleague Gennaro Gattuso, the man whose lung-bursting energy was largely responsible for Milan winning the Champions League three years ago and is now one of the most highly rated and sought after holding midfielders anywhere in the world. Mauro Camoranesi of Juventus completes what will likely be a three-man midfield with Totti given a free role behind the strikers. The young Roma prodigy Daniele de Rossi has also made quite an impact under Lippi and will be close to a starting place.

    At nearly every World Cup Italy find themselves a centre-forward that comfortably handles the goal-scoring burden – you can draw a line from Rossi through Altobelli, Schillachi, Baggio and Vieri, all of whom have netted four at least in the tournament that counts the most. So who will it be this time? Alberto Gilardino, after a sensational start to his career with Parma, has continued his upward curve with AC Milan and the national team and looks certain to start and will probably be partnered by the Fiorentina sensation Luca Toni. Something of a late bloomer at 27, he has at time of writing scored 23 goals in 28 games for the Florence club and has retained that form in forging an excellent understanding with Gilardino.

    Antonio Cassano was about the only good thing to emerge out of the wreckage of Euro 2004 for Italy, although transferring into the shambolic Real Madrid set-up in the transfer window seemed then and more so now a bizarre career move, even if he has put some of his more illustrious colleagues to shame with his efforts. He will be pushing for a squad place as will three veterans looking for one last shot at glory. Alessandro del Piero is a favourite son of Lippi and looks certain to go even though his performances at major tournaments have nearly always disappointed. Christian Vieri, he of nine World Cup goals and the main man in France and Japan/Korea, is currently at Monaco in a desperate bid to recover form and get selected, and lastly Filippo Inzaghi who is making an impressive comeback from injury at AC Milan.

    Despite the draw, and the looming possibility of Brazil as early as second round for whoever finishes second in the group, Italy have as much reason to be optimistic as any of the European nations you care to mention. Lippi is an excellent coach as his five scudetto’s and Champions League title with Juventus will testify. They are unbeaten in sixteen games and recently thrashed Germany 4-1 in Florence, although this may say more about the merits of Klinsmann’s team than it does about the Italians. Can they find that X factor that will transform them from a good team in the pack of might-be-winners to realistic favourites for the title?

    That X factor is currently injured and hoping to repair his ankle in time for June 12 when Italy open their campaign against Ghana. It’s a big ask for Totti to come back from such an injury with little match practice and lead the team into the business end of the tournament, but at the very least he should feel like he needs to do it. After being sent of for diving as Italy capitulated to South Korea four years ago and then banned for spitting in Portugal, to say he owes his team is the understatement of the World Cup.




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