Soccer-Italy World Cup draw factbox

ROME, Nov 27 (Reuters) - Factbox on World Cup qualifiers

Italy:

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

Gianluigi Buffon.

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

month's draw.

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

nightmare.

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

partnership.

Should they click their goal threat will make Italy serious

contenders.

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

in 2002.

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

2012

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

2013

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,

2006, 2010)

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)