|Giorgio Chiellini leading a pack of players during training
The ball will roll in Brazil in less than three weeks’ time, kicking off one of the biggest sporting celebrations of all time – The FIFA World Cup 2014. All the teams qualified for the final round have been awaiting this precious moment, to display the talent they have got and become pinup stars. In the process, some will uphold their reputation, some will disappoint their fans, and some new dark horses will emerge. It is not just the final 23 that have put all the effort to reach the ultimate destination, but several others over the last few years, who unfortunately couldn’t make the cut due to lack of form or injury.
As always, my favourite team is Italy. Italy never finds a place in a relatively weaker pool. Invariably they land in the group of death, and this time is no different. Italy finds a place among England, Uruguay, and Costa Rica. Italy had a great run up to the final, assuring their finals berth very early in the qualifiers and going unbeaten in the process. But the real test begins only now.
While some teams have finalised their squad of 23 players, Italy coach Cesare Prandelli hasn’t done that yet. He is still trying the final permutations and combinations and all possible types of formation. Before the final round, Italy has a couple of friendlies coming up against Ireland and Luxembourg, but the coach must declare the final team latest by June 2, which means more or less the best eleven will play against Luxembourg in the starting lineup.
If I were to pick the 23-man squad, the following would be my roster. This is assuming Italy plays 4-3-1-2 which should have the ability to regroup to a 4-4-2. At the goal is Gigi Buffon, arguably the best goalie Italy has ever produced. His deputies would be Salvatore Sirigu and Mattia Perin.
In the defence, I will have Giorgio Chiellini as the left back, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli as the centre backs, and Ignazio Abate as the right back. I will have four defenders on the bench – two left backs in Mattia De Sciglio and Manual Pasqual, a centre back in Andrea Ranocchia, and Christian Maggio who can be a right back and a sprinting right winger. If I were to include either De Sciglio or Pasqual as a left back, I have the luxury of moving Chiellini to the centre.
In the midfield, I will have Daniele De Rossi in the middle, Andrea Pirlo to his right, and Antonio Candreva on the left. The four midfielders on the bench would be Marco Verratti who is an excellent playmaker, and the experienced trio of untiring Claudio Marchisio, AC Milan captain Riccardo Montolivo, and Alberto Aquilani who is good in all roles in the midfield. Of these, Verratti will be a cover for Pirlo and Aquilani or Marchisio for De Rossi. Marchisio can also be swapped with Candreva for a starting lineup, and Montolivo can go anywhere in the middle or even as the 1 in the 1-2 formation up front.
In the strike is where I would like to see some youngsters doing well for Italy. Prandelli has been a believer in attack and that is enough reason to believe that he would have enough strike power at the front. The 1 in the 1-2 formation for me will be the experienced Giuseppe Rossi, and ahead of him would be Lorenzo Insigne on the left and Mario Balotelli on the right. The two strikers warming the bench would be Ciro Immobile and Mattia Destro. In my formation, Balotelli will play 90 minutes and Immobile who is strong on the left and right foot will be the substitute for Insigne. Or if needed, Rossi can be replaced with Immobile or Montolivo. Should either of Insigne or Balotelli be changed, Destro is an excellent option.
So here is my 23-man Italy squad: Gianluigi Buffon, Salvatore Sirigu, Mattia Perin, Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli, Ignazio Abate, Mattia Di Sciglio, Manual Pasqual, Andrea Ranocchia, Christian Maggio, Daniele Di Rossi, Andrea Pirlo, Antonio Candreva, Claudio Marchisio, Riccardo Montolivo, Marco Verratti, Alberto Aquilani, Giuseppe Rossi, Mario Balotelli, Lorenzo Insigne, Mattia Destro, Ciro Immobile.
I believe Italy will win against England and Costa Rica and draw with Uruguay and emerge as the winner of their pool.