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  • Italy in World Cup 2010
    Do the reigning champions have the skills, talent, and fresh legs to win again in South Africa?
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    In less than a month, the Italian national soccer team will defend its World Cup title in South Africa. Italy is almost always considered a contender for the World Cup title. But the Italians haven't won consecutive World Cups since their first two in 1934 and 1938. Frankly, the Italians have a pattern of relying on old horses and stale strategies when it comes to their national soccer team, which leaves many wondering how far Gli Azzurri can actually make it in the 2010 tournament.

    Sometimes, Italy is smart about looking to the past for future success. Bringing back winning 2006 Italian Coach Marcello Lippi, after trying out some others, was a good move. He has a way with players and strategies, which the world viewed both in 2006 at the World Cup and when he was the coach of the Italian Serie A club team Juventus. And advancing age doesn't prevent you from coming up with effective strategies and motivational speeches and behavior.

    Older players, on the other hand, are a whole other story. Lippi himself must have taken to heart some of the criticism from the soccer world because he did not call back veterans Alessandro Del Piero, Francesco Totti, and Luca Toni, who had played a major part in the championship 2006 World Cup team. But who have aged since then. Indeed, he kept to his promise that he would reward the players who helped the squad qualify for the 2010 World Cup. Although the team list isn't final, a preliminary roster is a good mix of fresh and veteran talent.

    Italy has a history of relying on the old dogs to provide the soccer team with new tricks. Back in 1994, defender Franco Baresi remained on the squad that lost in the World Cup final against Brazil. There was a TV show that joked, "Non e' morta?" or "Isn't he dead?" when discussing Baresi not long after that. Defender Paolo Maldini chose to retire, but even after he hit 40, there were people in Italy who were trying to coax him back into the national team. These older stars are like Italia's security blanket.

    Even though older soccer players bring with them experience and a sense of calm on the field, especially when the pressure is on, their legs are not what they used to be. Soccer, unlike any other sport, is quite physically demanding with 90 minutes of running up and down the field.

    There's something about the Italian culture that has the people believing that once you've proven your talent, you'll never lose it. Legends are legends forever. In one way, this aspect of the culture is respectable. It's why Italian families revere their elderly and take care of their families. But when it comes to soccer (and some say politics, too) it just doesn't pay. The cream of the crop will always be younger people with the skills, energy, and drive to win. Fresh legs, after all, are a necessity in soccer.

    Veterans Fabio Cannavaro, who is team captain, and Andrea Pirlo seem to have captured places on the 2010 national team. Cannavaro, who is in his mid-thirties, has been plagued with injuries recently. Still, some people believe his ability to inspire in the locker room might be reason enough to keep him on the squad. Pirlo, on the other hand, is a veteran who is still in top form. Many are saying he's one of the best reasons to watch the World Cup in 2010.

    Perhaps, you can't make sweeping judgments. Perhaps, Lippi and other soccer coaches should weigh the positives and negatives of each player first on an individual basis and then in terms of his ability to work with the greater team in question. Putting together the right group of players - old and new - is an art. Chemistry, in the end, is what makes good teams great. I would argue that chemistry is what had the 2006 Italian national team lifting the World Cup above its head in victory.

    Di Meglio is the Guide to Newlyweds for About.com, and you can read about her life and career at the Two Worlds Web site.


    Article Published 5/16/2010

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