Italy – Group D – World Cup profile

Four-time World Cup winners Italy are always seemingly in the mix at the business end of major tournaments – whether they are playing well or not.

The European nation seemingly have a collective mental toughness and are always difficult to beat when the chips are down.

Drawn in Group D alongside England, Uruguay and Costa Rica, the Azzurri will be fancied to get through the first stage. From there, the unpredictable nation could be a prickly opponent.

Confirmed squad

The 30-man preliminary squad has been reduced to 29 after Riccardo Montolivo’s broken leg, with plenty of experience in the defensive half of the pitch and youthful enthusiasm in the attacking section.

As expected, six players from Serie A champions Juventus have made the cut and there is a case to suggest that they may all take a place in the starting XI.

The squad is set to be trimmed down, but the inexperienced and young fringe men in the contingent are likely to miss out.

Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Salvatore Sirigu (Paris Saint-Germain), Mattia Perin (Genoa).

Defenders: Andrea Barzagli (Juventus), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Giorigo Chiellini (Juventus), Gabriel Paletta (Parma), Andrea Ranocchia (Internazionale), Ignazio Abate (Milan), Mattia De Sciglio (Milan), Christian Maggio (Napoli), Matteo Darmian (Torino), Manuel Pasqual (Fiorentina).

Midfielders: Andrea Pirlo (Juventus), Claudio Marchisio (Juventus), Thiago Motta (Paris Saint-Germain), Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain), Daniele De Rossi (Roma), Antonio Candreva (Lazio), Marco Parolo (Parma), Alberto Aquilani (Fiorentina), Romulo (Verona).

Forwards: Mario Balotelli (Milan), Antonio Cassano (Parma), Alessio Cerci (Torino), Ciro Immobile (Torino), Giuseppe Rossi (Fiorentina), Mattia Destro (Roma), Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli).

Notable absentees

AC Milan playmaker Montolivo suffered a broken leg in last night’s friendly fixture with Republic of Ireland and is desperately unlucky to have to withdraw from the squad as a result.

A number of established strikers have been left off the list, with an emphasis on up-and-coming attacking stars.

Pablo Osvaldo, Sebastian Giovinco and Alberto Gilardino have all been omitted, while an injury plagued club campaign means that Stephan El Shaarawy also misses out.

AC Milan’s industrious midfielder Andrea Poli would not have looked out of place in the group but was not selected, while Angelo Ogbonna has not had enough game time since crossing Turin to join Juve to warrant a place in the contingent.

Coach profile

Cesare PrandelliFormer Fiorentina boss Cesare Prandelli has had the full four years since the 2010 World Cup to build up to the competition in Brazil, with the 56-year-old replacing Marcello Lippi after a winless campaign in South Africa.

Prandelli led the Azzurri to an unlikely runners-up position at Euro 2012, beating highly fancied Germany in the semi-finals.

The coach obviously has the backing of the powerbrokers in Italian football, as he was recently handed a two-year contract extension – even before the nation’s performances in Brazil could be critiqued.

Formation / tactics

Italy have excellent options formation-wise, with Prandelli possessing the personnel and tactical nous to switch between a back four and 3-5-2 depending on the opposition and situation.

They are likely to start with four at the back and a tight three-man central midfield unit, which will lead to either a 4-3-3 or 4-3-1-2 set-up being deployed.

Juventus dominate the spine of the team with Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli a daunting proposition for opposition attacks.

In front of the rearguard, Andrea Pirlo will orchestrate the play with enforcer Daniele De Rossi alongside him to add some steel.

Montolivo’s injury means that there is opportunity for either Claudio Marchisio or Marco Verratti to be the most forward-thinking of the boiler room exponents.

Mario Balotelli is likely to lead the line, while Italy’s tactics could change between 4-3-3 and 4-3-1-2 to make the most of the talents of Ciro Immobile.

Slightly wasted playing from wide in a 4-3-3 formation, the 4-3-1-2 option would allow the Torino marksman to accompany Balotelli through the middle. Given that fellow striker Giuseppe Rossi is recovering fitness ahead of the competition, two up top seems like Italy’s best option.

Alessio Cerci appears destined to have a role to play, but this may well be from the bench. The Torino attacking midfielder’s link-up with Immobile this term has been a delight.

Italy’s traditional Catenaccio will continue to some degree, with the Azzurri confident of absorbing pressure given their impressive defence. They have the players to strike on the counter, but there is also a case to suggest that a more forthright approach could see the Italians outplay their Group D opposition.

Key player

Andrea PirloAndrea Pirlo – Like a vintage Tuscan red wine that gets better with age, the evergreen Juventus midfielder is Italy’s footballing talisman.

The deep-lying playmaker’s immaculate technique and exuberant range of passing mean that the 108-cap veteran is the man to unlock opposition defences with his vision and pinpoint delivery.

His understanding with fellow Bianconeri stars in the defensive third will be valuable as Italy look to keep clean sheets, but it is when Pirlo has the ball at his feet that Italy can be a real force.

One to watch

Ciro Immobile – After finishing as Serie A’s top goalscorer in 2013-14 with 22 strikes, the Torino hitman will be brimming with confidence ahead of participation in Brazil.

Versatile enough to play a number of different roles, the 24-year-old is best deployed as an out-and-out striker and is lethal in the penalty box.

On the verge of a move to German powerhouses Borussia Dortmund, Immobile has all the attributes to follow in a long line of world-class Italian centre forwards.


It would be a major shock if Italy’s failure to get out of their group in 2010 was repeated here and the Azzurri will be eyeing up a manageable round of 16 clash against one of Group C’s qualifiers.

Expect the Italians to start slowly and ramp up momentum as the competition progresses, with every chance that the historic nation can offer an upset or two along the way.

They may not have the individual brilliance of a team like Brazil or Spain, but their steely mentality and togetherness mean that not many will hope to face Italy in the knockout stages.

I am a freelance football journalist from Northern Ireland living in Broome in Western Australia. I have worked for top media outlets such as FourFourTwo,, Soccerlens, Football Fancast and Here is the City. I am a lifelong and long-suffering Tottenham fan. Follow me on Twitter at @90MinsOnline
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