ROME, Nov 27 (Reuters) - Factbox on World Cup qualifiers
Form and Prospects
On the face of it four-times winners Italy should be
considered among the favourites to lift the World Cup. Since
Cesare Prandelli took over the Azzurri in 2010 they have reached
Euro 2012 final and qualified for the summer trip to Brazil with
two games to spare.
They have a formidable tournament record and a knack of
reserving their best displays for when it really matters, while
their line-up contains some of the world's most accomplished
players, including midfield maestros Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De
Rossi, volatile striker Mario Balotelli and evergreen goalkeeper
However their performances in qualification, while by and
large effective were not thrilling, and questions remain over a
far from stereotypically stingey Italian backline which concedes
too many headed goals.
Defensive sloppiness and lapses in concentration saw them
draw with Denmark and Armenia in their final two group games
having already qualified, costing them top seed status in next
Prandelli is also struggling to find a stable strike partner
for Mario Balotelli.
Much will rest on how quickly the AC Milan attacker can form
an understanding with in-form Giuseppe Rossi, who is only just
returning to international duty after a two-year injury
The Italians have lacked inspiration in the final third in
recent months and they don't have anyone in their squad as
creative as former greats Roberto Baggio, Gianfranco Zola and
Alessandro Del Piero.
Napoli's Lorenzo Insigne and Lazio midfielder Antonio
Candreva have in particular flattered to deceive, meaning that
Italy's World Cup showing could hinge on American-born Rossi's
ability to stay fit.
The recent 2-2 draw with Nigeria in London showed that the
Balotelli and Rossi have potential as a pairing, with Balotelli
setting up Rossi's 12th-minute opener and each showing a degree
of understanding as yet unseen from any other attacking
Should they click their goal threat will make Italy serious
Coach: Cesare Prandelli
The World Cup will probably be Prandelli's last shot at
international success with his national team.
The 56-year-old is expected to leave the Italy hot-seat
after the tournament, most likely to take over from Massimiliano
Allegri at AC Milan.
After over three years in charge Italy still look to be in a
transitional period, but he is slowly moulding the Azzurri in
the image of his flamboyant Fiorentina side and wants to send
out a team that has his stamp on it.
Prandelli favours an attacking style of play which has
brought results, with Italy only losing two competitive games
since he took over following Italy's poor 2010 World Cup
campaign, one of which was the Euro 2012 final against World
Champions Spain and the other in an exciting 4-2 defeat to hosts
Brazil in last summer's Confederations Cup.
He has tried with some success to bring through a new
generation, and is keen for a more vibrant, dynamic edge to
Italy's play while maintaining the resilience that saw them
triumph in such dramatic style in 2006.
Key player: Andrea Pirlo
He might be battling for supremacy at club level with French
newcomer Paul Pogba but Andrea Pirlo is the undisputed midfield
kingpin for the Azzurri.
His pinpoint passing and precision set-pieces are crucial to
Italy's attacks, while his seemingly effortless ability to
retain the ball keeps Italy ticking over when they need to
defend a lead.
Unlike the more erratic headline-grabber Mario Balotelli he
is as dependable as he is talented.
Incredibly the 34-year-old has made noises about leaving
Juve in the summer should he not start more games for the
Italian champions, but there is no doubting his place in the
national team, where he has made 107 appearances since his debut
If Italy are to do any damage at the World Cup they will be
driven by the man Marcello Lippi called "the silent leader who
speaks with his feet".
How they qualified: Winners European Group B
Sept 7 Bulgaria A D 2-2 Osvaldo 2
Sept 11 Malta H W 2-0 Destro, Peluso
Oct 12 Armenia A W 3-1 Pirlo (pen), De Rossi, Osvaldo
Oct 16 Denmark H W 3-1 Montolivo, De Rossi, Balotelli
March 26 Malta H W 2-0 Balotelli 2 (1pen)
June 7 Czech Republic D 0-0
Sept 6 Bulgaria H W 1-0 Gilardino
Sept 10 Czech Republic H W 2-1 Chiellini, Balotelli (pen)
Oct 11 Denmark A D 2-2 Osvaldo, Aquilani
Oct 15 Armenia H D 2-2 Florenzi, Balotelli
World Cup record:
Previous appearances: 17 (1934, 1938, 1950, 1954, 1962,
1966, 1970, 1974, 1978, 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002,
Best performances: Winners 1934, 1938, 1982, 2006
Odds: William Hill odds to win World Cup (Nov 2013): 20-1
(Writing by Terry Daley, editing by Mike Collett)