Italy’s keeper Gianluigi Buffon is still arguably the best in the world (Getty)


Manager: Marcello Lippi

Training base: Leriba Lodge, Pretoria

June 14 – Paraguay, Cape Town, 8.30pm
June 20 – New Zealand, Nelspruit, 4pm
June 24 – Slovakia, Ellis Park, 4pm

World Cup record: Current holders after winning the tournament for the fourth time four years ago; have qualified for every finals since 1962.

State of play: The world champions go into the World Cup with a muted sense of optimism. Coach Marcello Lippi – a hero four years ago – is leaving after the finals and acknowledges that if Italy do badly his domestic press will “massacre” him. An aging squad has shown many signs of creaking, not least when Italy were torn apart in last summer’s Confederations Cup. But you can never write the Italians off; last time they went into the finals after a dismal build-up and with Calciopoli hanging over them and still won it.

Key men: The core of the 2006 squad remains, but many figures – not least Fabio Cannavaro – a shadow today of the colossus he was four years ago – are diminished. The most notable exception is goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, still arguably the best in the world. Italy badly need Andrea Pirlo to recover from a pre-tournament injury to bring composure and élan to their midfield. Claudio Marchiso, a creative left midfielder, comes into the finals on the back of an excellent season for Juventus. He could certainly make a name for himself.

They say: “We are nearly all over thirty, but qualified for this World Cup with a game to spare. This tournament isn’t a league with 50 matches in which your physical condition is crucial. At a World Cup seven matches is all it takes. That’s why we’re going for it.” Fabio Cannavaro

We say: “With a highly critical media focusing on an aging squad and underwhelming results, Italy are few people’s favourites for 2010 – not least at home. But their problems now pale by comparison to those preceding the last World Cup and the “Dad’s Army” cliché may ultimately work to Italy’s advantage. Six or seven of their likely starters have more than 50 caps – such experience at this level should never be discounted.

Odds: 12-1

Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Morgan De Sanctis (Napoli), Federico Marchetti (Cagliari)

Defenders: Salvatore Bocchetti (Genoa), Leonardo Bonucci (Bari), Fabio Cannavaro (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Domenico Criscito (Genoa), Christian Maggio (Napoli), Gianluca Zambrotta (AC Milan)

Midfielders: Mauro Camoranesi (Juventus), Daniele De Rossi (AS Roma), Gennaro Gattuso (AC Milan), Claudio Marchisio (Juventus), Riccardo Montolivo (Fiorentina), Angelo Palombo (Sampdoria), Simone Pepe (Udinese), Andrea Pirlo (AC Milan)

Forwards: Antonio Di Natale (Udinese), Alberto Gilardino (Fiorentina), Vincenzo Iaquinta (Juventus), Giampaolo Pazzini (Sampdoria), Fabio Quagliarella (Napoli)



Roque Santa Cruz is one of the most complete strikers at the World Cup (Getty)

Gerardo Martino

Training base: Woodridge Country Estate, Kwazulu Natal

June 14 – Italy, Cape Town, 8.30pm
June 20 – Slovakia, Bloemfontain, 1.30pm
June 24 – Polokwane, 4pm

World Cup record: With its small population, Paraguay are World Cup overachievers, reaching the last four tournaments and eight overall. They have never been past the second round, however.

State of play: Considered by many South American football observers to be the finest Paraguay team in generations, they suffered a devastating blow in January when striker Salvador Cabanas was shot in the head in an attack in a bar in Mexico City. The former South American Footballer of the Year was a prolific goalscorer in the Mexican league and Copa Libertadores and was expected to play a big part this summer. But even without him, Paraguay are not short on firepower and would be many people’s favourites to progress from Group F and maybe even to the quarter-finals.

Key men: Left-sided forward Oscar Cardoza has been a revelation for an attack-conscious Benfica side, but his form has been curiously lacklustre for his country. If he can display his obvious talent, he is one to shine. The nationalized Argentine, Lucas Barrios, can perhaps fulfil the hole left in the squad by Cabanas’s absence. A recent recruit to the national squad he scored three goals in his first three internationals and has been in prolific form for Borussia Dortmund this season. Manchester City centre-forward Roque Santa Cruz is one of the most complete centre forwards at the finals, but needs to overcome a season wracked by injury.

They say: “I have been to South Africa before. I think now we know what to expect. We have been preparing well for this World Cup. I believe we will be in good condition for the first game. We are aware that this is going to be a difficult tournament for everyone, but we need to work harder and make sure we qualify for the next round.”
Gerardo Martino

We say: “Don’t be fooled by Paraguay’s disappointing form in warm-up friendlies – this is a nation that plays its best football on the highest stage. Victories over Brazil and Argentina in qualifying, plus a couple of away draws to France and Holland, point to their abundant talent. Expect them to progress beyond the group stage, then who knows where their exciting forward line might take them.”

Odds: 40-1

Justo Villar (Valladolid, ESP)
Aldo Bobadilla (Independiente Medellin, COL)
Diego Barreto (Cerro Porteño, PAR)

: Denis Caniza (Leon, MEX)
Darío Verón (UNAM, MEX)
Julio Cáceres (Atletico Mineiro, BRA)
Antolín Alcaraz (Wigan Athletic, ENG)
Paulo Da Silva (Sunderland, ENG)
Claudio Morel (Boca Juniors, ARG)
Carlos Bonet (Olimpia, PAR)
Aureliano Torres (San Lorenzo, ARG)

: Enrique Vera (LDU Quito, ECU)
Cristian Riveros (Sunderland, ENG)
Jonathan Santana (Wolfsburg, GER)
Néstor Ortigoza (Argentinos Juniors, ARG)
Víctor Cáceres (Libertad, PAR)
Edgar Barreto (Atalanta, ITA)

: Roque Santa Cruz (Manchester City, ENG)
Nelson Haedo (Borussia Dortmund, GER)
Lucas Barrios (Borussia Dortmund, GER)
Óscar Cardozo (Benfica, POR)
Edgar Benítez (Pachuca, MEX)
Rodolfo Gamarra (Libertad, PAR)

by European correspondent James Corbett
[email protected])
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