We'll say this much about Cesare Prandelli, he's got a flair for the dramatic. With only 13 days until Italy kicks off their World Cup campaign against England, Prandelli waited until the proverbial eleventh hour to whittle his squad down to the final 23 men charged with restoring pride to the peninsula. From the Roman perspective, the final cut down was about what we expected: Daniele De Rossi is in, Mattia Destro is out.
No real surprise there, De Rossi is the lynchpin to Prandelli's paradigm, so his spot was secured long ago. Destro, meanwhile, will have to wait another four years for his day in the sun. With attacking talent like Mario Balotelli, Antonio Cassano, Alessio Cerci and Ciro Immobile, we may never truly know the extent to which Destro's ethical ban actually impacted his chances of going to Brazil. Was he a victim of timing or simply not the best option?
Certainly, the inclusion of Lorenzo Insigne makes you scratch your head, beyond his ability to play wide, what does he offer that Destro doesn't? Nevertheless, Destro is only 23-years-old, so he will have plenty of chances to shine for the Azzurri, so for now, let's take a quick look at Prandelli's posse.
I 23 #Azzurri per il #Mondiale - #Ranocchia convocato come 24esimo. #Italia #Nazionale #Italy #WorldCup #VivoAzzurro pic.twitter.com/TAbFtXgEo2— Nazionale Italiana (@Vivo_Azzurro) June 1, 2014
Buffon (Juventus), Perin (Genoa), Sirigu (Paris St. Germain)
No real surprises here, Gianluigi Buffon will captain the Azzurri once more, while Salvatore Sirigu was always choice number two. Mattia Perin, meanwhile, should keep his eyes and ears open, because he may very well be carrying Buffon's torch in four years' time.
Abate (Milan), Barzagli (Juventus), Bonucci (Juventus), Chiellini (Juventus), Darmian (Torino), De Sciglio (Milan), Paletta (Parma)
Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci were always no-brainers and should be joined in the starting lineup by Ignazio Abate, leaving the backup duties to De Sciglio, Paletta and the surprise selection of Darmian.
If a strong and cohesive defense is key to winning a short tournament like this, you have to like Italy's chances, as the Juve trio has talent and chemistry in spades. But will this familiarity be enough to overcome Italy's glaring weakness on the flanks?
Aquilani (Fiorentina), Candreva (Lazio), De Rossi (Roma), Marchisio (Juventus), Thiago Motta (Paris St. Germain), Parolo (Parma), Pirlo (Juventus), Verratti (Paris St. Germain)
With Riccardo Montolivo's injury yesterday, the inclusion of Marco Verratti was nearly a foregone conclusion. Out of this set, one would imagine the starting trio will be Andrea Pirlo, Daniele De Rossi and Thiago Motta, with Claudio Marchisio and Antonio Candreva serving as the super subs.
They may not have the sizzle of the Spaniards, but Italy's midfielders are well capable of dictating the pace of play against any side in the world.
Balotelli (Milan), Cassano (Parma), Cerci (Torino), Immobile (Torino), Insigne (Napoli).
This was always meant to be the most controversial set of selections for Prandelli, but between these five men, Italy has an intriguing mix of attacking talent. With 36 goals between them, Mario Balotelli and Ciro Immobile should bring more than enough firepower to the center of Italy's attack, while Alessio Cerci and Antonio Cassano will provide the spark out wide, leaving Lorenzo Insigne to pick up the scraps.
The glaring omission is, of course, Giuseppe Rossi who, though injured once more, still managed to score 16 goals for Fiorentina. Even though the minutes behind Italy's front three may be sparse, surely having someone as prolific as Rossi would be more beneficial to Italy than Insigne.
Speaking of Lorenzo....
As far as Destro is concerned, Balotelli and Immobile provide more than enough meat for the center of attack, so Insigne's ability to play out wide is probably what won the day for the Napoli player--not to discredit his talent. The only argument one could make in favor of Destro over Insigne is that Antonio Candreva, though a midfielder, can also play as a wide attacker. Either way, barring injury or suspension, there probably won't many available minutes behind Balotelli, Cassano, Cerci and Immobile.
Our best guess for Italy's eleven against England:
Buffon; Abate, Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Pirlo, De Rossi, Motta; Cassano, Balotelli, Cerci
Gigi is still among the world's best, while the remainder of the backline is solid, though lacking in attacking verve. The midfield, meanwhile, should have no problem keeping possession, with De Rossi and Thiago Motta providing enough cover to allow Pirlo to pull the strings relatively unfettered. Up front, the talent is there, but a question of cohesion and communication remains; those are three players who, when with their domestic clubs, need an awful lot of the ball in order to be effective.
So, we know the names, but are they enough to tame the Three Lions, let alone the world?
Make sure you stick with us throughout the tournament, as we'll attempt to cover the Azzurri's march towards their fifth title, as well as keeping tabs on Roma's other world cup combatants.