14-June England (11pm GMT Manaus)
20-June Costa Rica (5pm GMT Recife)
24-June Uruguay (5pm GMT Natal)
Italy qualified with two games to spare, a new record for the Azzurri, but Susy Campanale notes injuries and form could be a big problem in Brazil.
Coach: Cesare Prandelli
The former Fiorentina tactician stated his primary aim when taking over in 2010 was to get Italians back in love with La Nazionale. They are more entertaining to watch and he’s not afraid to call up young talents or those from smaller clubs, while his ‘Code of Ethics’ highlights how he views the side as an example for the country. Prandelli was expected to walk away after this tournament, but he has agreed to sign a contract extension.
Why they could be dangerous
This is the last World Cup for those remaining from the 2006 triumph, Andrea Pirlo and Gigi Buffon. Italy have been growing under Prandelli, finishing runners-up at Euro 2012 to Spain and securing the Bronze medal at the Confederations Cup last summer. Having experienced the conditions in Brazil a year early could be a big advantage. There are many midfield options and the Juventus block in defence. The big concerns are over Giuseppe Rossi’s knee injury and the poor form going in of their forwards, but Antonio Cassano and even Francesco Totti could return.
The world on his shoulders: Mario Balotelli
Love him or hate him, Super Mario will be decisive for Italy at the World Cup. He has unique characteristics among the strikers, power, pace, long-range ballistic prowess and is good in the air. Critics would point out Balo is also temperamental, lazy, petulant and prone to either disappearing completely or getting sent off. A chaotic Milan campaign hasn’t helped the 23-year-old find his stability, but in the right mood he can turn a game – just witness his sensational brace in the Euro 2012 semi-final against Germany.
Did you know?
Since losing to Brazil in 1970, Italy have reached the World Cup Final once every 12 years – 1982, 1994, 2006 – and won the trophy every 24 years – 1982 and 2006. The Azzurri had never previously qualified for the tournament with two games to spare, but still weren’t top seeds in the draw. The Nazionale are taking part in their 14th consecutive World Cup.
Country legend: Dino Zoff
The iconic goalkeeper wore the captain’s armband as he raised the trophy in 1982 at the age of 40, still the oldest ever player to win the World Cup. Widely considered to be one of the greatest shot-stoppers of all time, the former Juventus and Napoli star also won the 1968 European Championship and kept a record clean sheet for 1,142 minutes of international football from 1972 to 1974. As a Coach, Zoff took Italy to the Euro 2000 Final, losing to France’s Golden Goal.
Prandelli has used several different systems during his tenure and while some applaud his versatility, others wonder whether it’s time to pick a shape. Although a 3-5-2 proved effective and mirrors the Juventus model, the Coach seems determined to push through a 4-3-3 or a 4-3-2-1, but finding the players to suit it has been tricky. The midfield is also still too dependent on Andrea Pirlo, while young forwards like Ciro Immobile, Mattia Destro and Lorenzo Insigne are eager to get their chance.
…England P24 W9 D7 L8 F27 A30
…Costa Rica P1 W1 D0 L0 F1 A0
…Uruguay P9 W2 D4 L3 F9 A10
Population: 59.9 million
World Cup appearances: 18
Best finish: Winners, Italy 1934, France 1938, Spain 1982 and Germany 2006
Famous for: Being the most successful European nation in World Cup history, lifting the trophy four times. Only Brazil have done better with five victories.
Top Division: Serie A
How they got to the World Cup: Top of UEFA Group B
FIFA World Ranking: 9
Last World Cup Appearance: South Africa 2010 – Reigning champions went out in the group stage without a single win.
Continental Honours: 1968 European Champions, World Cup Champions 1934, 1938, 1982, 2006
Most Capped Player: Gianluigi Buffon (139 Caps)
Leading International Scorer: Luigi Riva (35 Goals)
Nickname: Azzurri – Blues, La Nazionale – The National Team