WORLD CUP HISTORY: Italy has lifted the greatest prize in world football four times, second only to Brazil. Like the Samba Boys, Marcello Lippi’s charges feel at home on the big stage. Italy also join Brazil as the only teams to repeat as champions, doing so in 1934 and 1938. The Azzurri have a rich and deep World Cup history, and they’ll look to repeat once again in 2010.
QUALIFICATION: It was a typical qualifying campaign for the Italians as they efficiently and effectively went about their business, successfully winning their group. Italy navigated through their group without suffering a loss while beating out Ireland for first place by six points.
KEY PLAYER: Andrea Pirlo. The squad sees some new faces mixed in with older campaigners some feel may be past their prime, but it is with a veteran that the team will look for its creative spine. Pirlo is among the best passers in the world, and in the absence of creative forces like Francesco Totti, he will need to create chances for his forwards. The AC Milan man may have hit the big 30 but he is as central to this Italy side as he was four years ago.
EXPECTATIONS: A defending champion has only one expectation, and that is to successfully defend its crown. However, this is not the same Italy that won in 2006. It’s an Italy on the verge of a new era. Group F will pit the champs against a very tough Paraguay, a tricky Slovakia and a weak New Zealand. The bracket looks to be kind, so a quarter-final berth looks to be in the cards. You can’t rule out the champs.