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2:00 AM UTC May 23, 2018
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 By Ben Gladwell

Maldini backs Italy for World Cup glory

Former Italy defender Paolo Maldini has told La Gazzetta dello Sport he believes Cesare Prandelli is justified in setting his sights on the final of the World Cup this summer.

- Rzouki: Italy's pragmatism should be celebrated

The Squadra Azzurra got their challenge off on the right foot with a 2-1 win over England at the weekend, and victory over Costa Rica on Friday could already be enough to earn them a place in the last 16 with a group game to spare.

Maldini, veteran of four World Cups with Italy which included a second and third place, was impressed enough with what he saw against Roy Hodgson's England to have faith in Prandelli's belief that Italy can go all the way.

"Why should that sound exaggerated?" he said. "There are some chances that come around only once in your lifetime and if you don't start off with the intention of going right the way to the end, then how else do you expect to get there?"

Maldini's enthusiasm is borne out of the tactical versatility shown by Prandelli's team. The Italy coach kept everybody guessing about what style and which players he would deploy against England.

His starting XI against Costa Rica could be completely different, but it is precisely that unpredictability which Maldini feels can take Italy far this summer.

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"I saw us playing an intelligent style of play against England, suited to the conditions, and that's nothing to be ashamed about," said the 45-year-old. "I think it's an exaggeration to say that Italian football is not modern enough -- is it just because we know how to defend?

"Well I'd say that's not a bad thing either because there are plenty of sides at the World Cup who can maybe attack well, but defend terribly.

"Even [Arrigo] Sacchi changed his whole ideas about football after 10 days of 38 degrees temperatures and 100 percent humidity [in USA 1994]. It's still too soon after one game to give a judgment, but I have to say this squad already looks strong, but that's nothing new -- it's in our DNA."

And when you have a player with the qualities of Andrea Pirlo everything becomes even easier, according to Maldini.

"Everything goes through him -- everything," said Maldini, who spent eight years at AC Milan with the Juventus playmaker.

"He can play short or long, he can play the ball out wide and deep. If you make a run, you know the ball will arrive, and if you don't know who to give it to, you just give it to him.

"Andrea is always fundamental, even more so when it is hot because that's when you need to make the ball do the running, and if you've got the ball, you tire less. Did you see how tired the English were at the end on Saturday?"


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