Rome: Marcello Lippi will lead champions
Italy in South Africa in their bid to become the first team
since the great Brazil of Pele to retain the World Cup trophy.
But even the most ardent of Italy fans count themselves
amongst the sceptics.
For one, this Italy team does not have the talent of the
1958 and 1962 Brazil teams and secondly it is not led by a
talisman of Pele proportions.
But it is not just the fact that Italy are missing the
finishing gloss needed to be great, their engine and chassis
hardly strike fear or envy into their opponents either.
And even Lippi acknowledges that this is not the most
talented bunch of players he has ever worked with.
But he has been at pains to talk up their merits and
remind the doubters of their past glories in similar
situations, such as 1982 and 2006 when Italy overcame the odds
stacked against them to emerge as unlikely World Cup winners.
"We`re going there with great confidence, with a status
(as champions) to consolidate while also knowing the strengths
of our opponents," said Lippi.
"Many times the national team has started off not being
favourites but have achieved exceptional results. We`ll give
Even so, it will take all of Lippi`s powers of motivation
and tactical acumen to get the best out of a group of players
who on paper many would say are not even good enough to reach
the last eight.
And to do so the former Juventus boss has been stressing
the importance of togetherness.
"I`ve never been as motivated as I am now. I can`t wait
to begin my second World Cup," he said.
"I think that if we want to close the gap to those teams
that are better than us, the only way to do so is to be
"Our strength will once again be the group. That`s been
my secret since I first started coaching in Serie C.”
"And the proof in the pudding is that (Lionel) Messi and
Cristiano Ronaldo only scraped through with Argentina and
It is true that despite Italy`s abysmal showing at last
year`s Confederations` Cup and their generally unimpressive
form in qualifying, they did reach the World Cup with a game
But lightning rarely strikes twice and for this current
squad, shorn of a truly world class forward, with a creaking
and ageing defence and with increasingly less effective
midfield playmakers, to achieve anything, the onus will be on
Lippi to mould them into a cohesive unit and cajole one last
great effort out of them.
And that will be as tough a task as the veteran coach has
ever faced given that he has been more used to guiding a
dominant Juventus team in recent years.
However he can draw on a wealth of experience from his
early career where he languished in the lower divisions of
such unknown footballing outposts as Pontedera, Pistoiese and
Carrarese, tolling for results.
Perhaps the experience that will most benefit him,
though, was his one season at a bankrupt, free-falling and
Diego Maradona-less Napoli, whom he led into Europe, a feat
that earned him his move to Juventus, which launched him on
the road to fame and glory.
And he will once again need to gel a crumbling empire for
one last effort if Italy are to avoid an early and ignominious
exit in South Africa.
However, if there is one man who can do it, it is the man
who chose to postpone his easy retirement sitting on a
verander in the Tuscan countryside smoking cigars fresh in the
knowledge that he had one everything going for club and
Lippi chose instead to throw himself back into the mix
and tackle the task of satisfying a most demanding nation.
And to do so he will invariably turn to his tried and
tested, the likes of goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, centre-back
Fabio Cannavaro and midfielders Andrea Pirlo and Daniele Rossi
and ask them to revive the spirit of 2006 once last time.