At 25/1 Italy are not among the favourites to win the FIFA World Cup in Brazil. In a group with Uruguay, Costa Rica and of course England they need to get off to the best start when they take on England in the opening game.
Okay, Italy's recent warm up match was a bit embarrassing. A 1-1 draw with Luxembourg in Perugia, not Cesare Prandelli's finest game with the national team. The Luxembourg game for Italy posed far more questions than it answered. 3 systems and 6 substitutes were used across the 90 minutes all pointing to a sense of a manager not knowing either his best eleven or his best system.
Every Italy friendly under Prandelli has been the same. As James Horncastle tweeted "tonight followed all Prandelli friendlies: result is secondary, it's all about experimenting." The manager summed it up with "Players who are going to the World Cup tend to manage their performance. We weren't aggressive enough and didn't take any risks at 1-0. We thought we could manage the game." Does this mean he thought it went well?
When you look at the squad that has been picked for Italy, the big omission is Fiorentina striker Giuseppe Rossi. The forward who had been nursing his 3rd major knee injury just couldn't convince Prandelli that he was fit enough to be risked. Prandelli said "I could have pick him (Rossi) it would have made lots of people happy, but I decided with other players" The other big absentee was AC Milan midfielder Riccardo Montolivo who was ruled out of the World Cup after he sustained a broken leg in the drab 0-0 draw with Ireland at Craven Cottage.
So who did Prandelli pick? The squad below was confirmed on June 1st 2014 and the numbers were revealed a day after.
Keepers: 1 Buffon, 12 Sirigu, 13 Perin
Defenders: 2 De Sciglio, 3 Chiellini, 4 Darmian, 7 Abate, 15 Barzagli, 19 Bonucci, 20 Paletta
Midfielders: 5 Motta, 6 Candreva, 8 Marchisio, 14 Aquilani, 16 De Rossi, 18 Parolo, 21 Pirlo, 23 Verratti
Forwards: 9 Balotelli, 10 Cassano, 11 Cerci, 17 Immobile, 22 Insigne
As a squad it does look very balanced. Not only in terms of position spread but in terms of international experience. The experience in each position is clear to see, Buffon 139 caps, Chiellini 67 caps, Pirlo, 108 caps, De Rossi 94 caps and a front line that has over 80 caps between them. That should hold the European runners-up in good stead in Brazil.
The two exciting picks for some are in attack. Torino duo Ciro Immobile and Alessio Cerci have had brilliant seasons, both though unlikely to start the opening game but if one was to start it would be Cerci.
Immobile has recently completed a move to Dortmund for a fee around £15.8m. The Torino striker was part owned by Juventus but it was clear that Ciro who had hit 22 goal in 33 games had his heart set on a move to Germany. Cerci on the other hand had a dramatic end to the league season, a last-minute penalty miss cost his Torino side a place in Europe. He however ended the season with 11 goals and 13 assists, the most assists in Serie A last term.
Now, overall will Italy win the competition? I'd say unlikely, but I wouldn't rule them completely out. Would I bet on them? Yes. But maybe only a fiver. That would still return over £100 mind!
If Prandelli's men get out of Group D, then they have a chance.
(An Italy piece without really mentioning Ballotelli, I know. I'm sorry. I'm just not his biggest fan!)