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 Posted by Mina Rzouki
Jun 9, 2014

Italy's World Cup predictions

Leonardo Bertozzi analyzes the Azzurri's attacking options and their problem in defence.

After four years of waiting, the time has come. Another World Cup is here, and our bloggers across all 32 competing countries have each predicted the fate that awaits their team. The country's Outlook gives a general view of its situation ahead of the tournament, while Pitfalls takes a look at any potential problems. Each blogger will also predict the top scorer and breakout star and suggest how far that nation can go.

OUTLOOK

Zero wins in the last seven games would usually worry fans, but when it comes to the Italians, they are well-versed in the Azzurri's art of lackadaisical play in noncompetitive matches. The Nazionale simply never perform unless they have to, and historically, their successful World Cup tournaments were always preceded by poor results.

Putting the team through its paces, coach Cesare Prandelli has insisted on preparing his side for the weather conditions it will face in Brazil. To recreate the heat and humidity, each member of the team has been closely observed while training in a sauna to see how well he will cope in the tournament.

While the coach may be obsessed with technical and "beautiful" football, he has also made it abundantly clear that he needs to be able to count on athletes - - men capable of providing intensity until the final minute of each match.

Having already experienced the atmosphere and environment when playing in the Confederations Cup in Brazil last year, the Azzurri feel they have the advantage when it comes to their preparation.

PITFALLS

There are several. For one thing, the back line lacks mobility and seems to be rather fragile when it comes to defending set pieces. For a team that loves to possess the ball and control play, when they do lose possession, Italy are susceptible to a quick counterattack, especially if the opponent is blessed with pace and physicality.

As for their attacking play, they are simply not as efficient as they ought to be at this stage. Too many wasted chances have seen them collect a seemingly endless collection of unsatisfying results, while the front line can look a little flat at times with too many players creating space but few capable of actually exploiting it.

Recent friendlies have shown a lack of fluidity to their game, with players yet to understand fully what is expected of them. Yet it's presumed by the time the tournament kicks off that Prandelli will be able to allay some fears.

STAR SCORER

"I'm hoping he can learn how to be a centre-forward," said Silvio Berlusconi when asked about Milan forward Mario Balotelli. It's always a bit worrying when the man Italy will depend on to finish off their chances is thought of as a forward who needs to learn how to play as one.

Yet the country is well aware of his talent -- if only he chose to demonstrate it on a more consistent basis.

With a technically gifted and creative midfield behind him tasked with providing service, the Milan star is expected to provide the finishing touch and demonstrate his physicality and stunning technique. We have seen the impact Balotelli has on a team when playing for his country, and with the dedication he's showing in training, Italy hope their star will come through for them.

Mario Balotelli's habit of international goals will be needed for Italy to claim a fifth World Cup title.
Mario Balotelli's habit of international goals will be needed for Italy to claim a fifth World Cup title.

WILD CARD

He has played with Zinedine Zidane, the great Brazilian Ronaldo and many more, yet when asked who was his most talented teammate ever, Raul Gonzalez, the former Real Madrid legend, answered immediately: "Antonio Cassano."

Cassano has admitted that he gorged on pastries and confessed to never having given his all on the field, yet with the World Cup approaching, he has done everything he could to realise his dream.

Losing 22 pounds, he played an excellent season at Parma, helping to guide them to a sixth-place finish. Cassano's mobility, ability to create space and outstanding vision have reminded Italians of his genius.

With the Azzurri, he has proved exemplary in training. Devoted, hard-working and in excellent physical condition, he is the player who has impressed the most in Italy's recent games, providing the unpredictability and clever moves to trouble the opponent.

PREDICTION: The final

Italy know they are not the favourite but firmly believe they are among the top six in the World Cup. Unfortunately for them, they have been placed in a tough group.

What they lack in talent, they feel they can make up for with preparation, intelligent tactics and their usual efficient and cynical style of play. History has taught us that while the Azzurri rarely boast the best team in such tournaments, their winning mentality and ability to excel in the most difficult matches have seen them lift the trophy on four occasions -- more than any other European country.

The team is expected to at least reach the quarterfinals, but Prandelli feels that if Italy act as a team, their unity will guide them to the final.