World Cup 2006 Preview – Italy
Outright Odds: 10/1
Group E Winners: 10/11
Italy are the grand masters of heart-breaking tragedy when it comes to major finals. In all three World Cups held in the 1990s, the Italians bowed out on penalties, including Roberto Baggio’s infamous miss against Brazil in the 1994 final.
They don’t fare a lot better in Europe either. With Euro 2000 in the bag, opponents France equalised four minutes into injury time and went on to win, while Euro 2004 saw Italy bow out in the group stage when Sweden and Denmark drew 2-2, the only result which would send both teams through at the Italians’ expense.
Italy have made failure when it matters the most an art form and are likely to provide plenty of high drama at this summer’s finals. However, they tend to bring it upon themselves more often than not.
In a move that would make wheeler-dealer manager Barry Fry proud, Italy coach Marcelo Lippi used an incredible 36 players in qualifying so it is arguable he has not yet found his best starting eleven. Howeever, after 10 qualifying matches in which no player appeared in more than eight matches, Italy may not have the stability to see them triumph in Germany.
Italy are notorious slow starters in major finals which will not help matters in what is potentially the toughest of all the groups. In qualifying they lost an early match in Slovenia and could come unstuck against unknown quantity Ghana in their opening match.
Following a minor blip in qualifying the Italians remained unbeaten for the rest of the campaign, proving they are solid if not spectacular and topped the group by five points. There is no value in them winning Group E at 10/11 or qualifying from it at heavy odds-on but given their history of being “there or thereabouts” they are likely to secure a spot in the last 16.
Their success will come from a watertight defence marshalled by Fabio Cannavaro, who missed the embarrassing defeat to South Korea in the 2002 finals and Alessandro Nesta.
Lippi also has a headache in who to play in attack. Veterans Alessandro Del Piero and Christian Vieri may give way to AC Milan’s Alberto Gilardino and Luca Toni of Fiorentina, who netted four goals in eight qualifying matches. Real Madrid’s Antonio Cassano is another option.
An unpredictable line-up and a history of doing “just enough” to progress through the tournament rather than winning in style means there is more value in opposing Italy than backing them at odds-on to win the group or qualify from it. Their final match against the Czech Republic could end all square if a point is all that’s required for both sides to make the last 16.
Italy vs Czech Republic draw @ 11/5