Italy’s Azzurri

Italy will be making their eighteenth appearance at a FIFA World Cup™.   Nicknamed the Azzurri, the Italians first appeared at the 1934 edition on home soil.   In 2014, the Italians find themselves in Group D alongside Costa Rica, England and Uruguay.

Italy is one of the few sides to book a ticket to Brazil without losing a match in qualifying.  The Azzurri bagged their 14th consecutive appearance in the FIFA World Cup™ finals with victories over Czech Republic, Denmark and Bulgaria.  Their strike force is spearheaded by one of the most complete strikers in modern football, Mario Balotelli.  As controversial as he is off the pitch, in front of goal the 24-year old is equally as lethal.  He is largely seen as the heir to the throne held by Silvio Piola.  Coach Cesare Prandelli will be looking for nothing but glory when his side lock horns with high-flying England in their opening group D match before exchanging blows with Costa Rica and Uruguay.

The Italians are no strangers to being on top of the world.  They are one of two nations to win the World Cup at the first attempt.  They achieved this glory in their own backyard in 1934.  From there they went on to win the competition three more times.  They grabbed it on French soil in 1938 to stamp their name in the history books as one of two with Brazil to win the cup twice in a row.  They won it again in Spain in 1982 and in Germany in 2006 in a controversial final against France.

Looking at their last triumph, it can be said they are a better side now than they were in 2006.  The only survivor from their title winning squad of that era is goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.  From the times of Fabio ‘The Berlin Wall’ Cannavaro to Stephan El Shaarawy and Pablo Osvaldo, La Squadra Azzurra are more offensive now than before, largely thanks to Prandelli’s attacking philosophy.  One cannot however rule out the possibility of a Mediterranean meltdown, as occasionally displayed by the emotionally-charged Italians.  This temperament fail resulted in a disappointing 2010 display when they failed to go past the group stages only managing to scoop two points and finishing at the foot of group F.  That said, Italy should be considered a genuine dark horse for the overall prize.