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World Cup Fantasy Preview: Italy

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The "Azzurri" are the ultimate cup side and with expectations are a danger this summer. Anybody with a Super Mario must have a chance right?

Englands' opening opponents - boooooooooooooooooo
Englands' opening opponents - boooooooooooooooooo
Claudio Villa

Tournament specialist Italy head into this summers finals with the following squad.

Goalkeepers:

Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Salvatore Sirigu (Paris Saint-Germain), Mattia Perin (Genoa).

Defenders:

Andrea Barzagli (Juventus), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Giorigo Chiellini (Juventus), Gabriel Paletta (Parma), Andrea Ranocchia (Internazionale), Ignazio Abate (Milan), Mattia De Sciglio (Milan), Christian Maggio (Napoli), Matteo Darmian (Torino), Manuel Pasqual (Fiorentina).

Midfielders:

Andrea Pirlo (Juventus), Claudio Marchisio (Juventus), Thiago Motta (Paris Saint-Germain), Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain), Riccardo Montolivo (Milan), Daniele De Rossi (Roma), Antonio Candreva (Lazio), Marco Parolo (Parma), Alberto Aquilani (Fiorentina), Romulo (Verona).

Forwards:

Mario Balotelli (Milan), Antonio Cassano (Parma), Alessio Cerci (Torino), Ciro Immobile (Torino), Giuseppe Rossi (Fiorentina), Mattia Destro (Roma), Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli).

Fantasy players to watch

Gianluigi Buffon

Playing in his last World Cup and will start.  buffon will feel very comfortable keeping behind three of his club mates meaning he should have a chance of cleans sheets (hopefully not in game one).  The sides captain.

Ignazio Abate

First choice right back and an attacking full back at that.  Perhaps a way to get into the italian defence and a possible assist provider. While his club AC Milan have had a terrible season Abate has been a consistent bright spark.

Giorgio Chiellini

The rock at the heart of the Italian defence.  Enjoyed a season of performance and success at Juventus he is a safe starter.  Not really a goal scorer but if the competition you play gives points for blocks or tackle won then Chiellini could do well.

Andrea Pirlo

Voted Serie A player of the season back to back the 35 year old is still the key man to the Italian system.  Whether he can be effective for 90 minutes in the opening game conditions and competition in general will influence how far the team progress.  Finally a dead ball specialist and therefore may provide an assist or goal during the matches.

Daniele De Rossi

At 30 in his prime and dangerous at set plays he will be the engine of the midfield.  While he plays more of a deeper role he is so well rounded he can adjust to the teams needs and tactics.

Mario Balotelli

Mr entertainment was fantastic in Euro 2012.  But we know Mario, hot one day, cold the next.  He comes into the tournament with expectation on him he didn't have in the Euro's.  He is the clear Italian first choice and will love the limelight of the World Cup.  Despite only playing five of the qualifiers he scored five goals and seems like he may be big game man.

Cico Immobile

Serie A top goalscorer is waiting in the wings should Mario do, well, a Mario.  Italy have a history of the lesser known forwards taking the World Cup by storm and one of the summers main transfer targets could be pretty pricey should he force his way into the starting 11 and continue his form.

Conclusions

Italy take their next generation to the competition intending to introduce them to international cup football.  Players like Verratti, excellent for PSG will take over from Pirlo.  Roma's Mattia Destro has a strike rate only bettered by Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero across europe's top 5 leagues. This duo didn't make my picks only because they are likely 2nd or 3rd choice in their position but keep an eye pre tournament.  Any injury or form concerns and the young duo may yet start.

Italy will be respectful of the group opponents but will expect to qualify from the group.  The opening fixture will be important.  The game played in the worst match condition location during the tournament.   Playing against an England side whose lack of ball retention could be crucial in such conditions, they will be looking for.a win and expecting at least a point.  Qualification from the tricky group should give them one of the most winnable second round games before they start a possible underdog in the quarter finals.  Like England, Holland and Belgium they are building towards the Euro's and Russia 2018.  Expectations are sensible and the reduced pressure after game one could help them to a nice run.  After all Italy do cup football like no other don't they.


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