Wednesday, Jun. 02, 2010


Manager: Marcello Lippi

Best: Winners (1934, 1938, 1982, 2006)

Both of Italy's last two World Cup triumphs — in 2006 and 1982 — underscore the fact that the Azzuri have an unrivaled ability to win the title even when they're not the best team there. Its aging squad and not-exactly-stellar attacking options might tempt punters to bet against them, but it would be foolish to write off a team with the proven defensive capabilities of Fabio Cannavaro, Gianluca Zambrotta as well as midfield terrier Gennaro Gattuso. Gianluigi Buffon can make a compelling case for being the world's best goalkeeper, while the aristocratic midfield playmaker Andrea Pirlo often provides passes to unlock the stingiest defenses. Forwards Alberto Gilardino and Vincenzo Iaquinta may not be names that terrify the world's defenders, but underrated Italian strikers have a way of exceeding expectations when in the national team's blue shirt (see Salvatore 'Toto' Schillaci in 1990, who won the Golden Boot). While they're hardly a form team right now, it ought to surprise no one if coach Marcello Lippi takes his charges deep into the tournament.

Player to watch: Gennaro Gattuso. Winning the World Cup is as much about stopping the opposition from playing their natural game as it is about playing your own, and few are as well-versed in the art of wrecking an opponent's plans as the tough-tackling AC Milan midfielder.