By Cameron Da Silva
Group D: England, Italy, Costa Rica, Uruguay
Having won the second most World Cups after Brazil (1934, 1938, 1982, 2006), Italy are no strangers to success on soccer’s biggest international stage. Coached by Cesare Prandelli, the Italian side will feature mainstays like captain and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and midfielder Andrea Pirlo, veterans of their 2006 World Cup-winning side.
Their World Cup qualification campaign went without a hitch, as they went undefeated, winning six and drawing four.
“Their strength is organized soccer. It’s getting the best out of their players and I think that’s what we can expect out of them in Brazil this year. They not only know how to plan for their own strengths and weaknesses but for the opposition as well,” said Rudi Schuller.
The key player to Italy’s success is star striker Mario Balotelli. While his abilities as a player have never been questioned, the 23-year old has had disciplinary problems in the past.
“I think he has to score a bulk of their goals but he also has to be mentally strong. In the past he has shown that he is capable of being a liability and a bit of a loose cannon but he can also be the best player on the pitch,” said Brendan Dunlop.
He was once described by a former coach as “unmanageable” and allegedly brought an iPad on the bench during an Italy game in 2011.
A weak spot for the Azzuri could be their ability to score goals. With the always volatile Balotelli, who has a history of getting sent off, they might need another forward to step up if need be. Strikers like Stephan El Shaarawy and Gisueppe Rossi have both been hampered with injuries this season.
“Their biggest weakness is their slow start. They never tend to start quickly in any kind of International tournament but once they get going they get going. They might have a little scare or two in the group stage but they’ll still get through,” said Schuller.