49 days, 2 hours and 36 minutes. At the time of writing, that is all that stands between Italy and the commencement of the biggest showpiece in world football. La Coppa del Mondo. As Marcello Lippi begins to construct his squad for South Africa, Italians across the country and beyond will await his decisions with much anticipation and in the hope that the wily old tactician will once again lead the Azzurri to glory for a fifth time.
Marcello Lippi has decisions to make
Having been drawn in a tricky group alongside Paraguay, Slovakia and New Zealand in Group F, it would be acceptable to harbour hopes that La Nazionale will progress to the knock-out stages. However, it would be foolish to underestimate any of the three countries paired with Signor Lippiâ€™s men, and with a potential clash against Holland in the second round, the silver-haired coach will undoubtedly realise the importance of finishing top of the group.
As the countdown continues and the final squad, which is to be announced on June 10th, begins to take shape, many debates continue to rage on with regards to the inclusion of certain individuals. It would appear that Signor Lippi has â€™16 or 17 placesâ€™ decided, leaving half a dozen seats on the plane to South Africa up for grabs. As the coach has previously stated he will continue to keep faith in his experienced veterans, but is this a World Cup too far for some? With Fabio â€˜Il Capitanoâ€™ Cannavaro reaching the ripe old age of 36, and several others the wrong side of 30, is he risking a repeat of the humiliation suffered at the disastrous Confederations Cup held last year? Or is experience the key to successfully defending the trophy that was so valiantly won in Berlin four years ago?
The most controversial sagas which have dominated newspaper headlines for months are those of a Mr Antonio Cassano and a young Mario Balotelli. When considering the potential squad travelling to South Africa, aside from the high average age, the next most noticeable aspect is the stark lack of creativity. With Andrea Pirlo providing the exception, there is an abundance of gritty and â€˜ball-winningâ€™ midfielders in the side but a deficiency in gifted players able to run with the ball and take on an opponent. If Francesco Totti were to decline a return to the international fold, it would become imperative for â€˜Fantantonioâ€™ to aid the Italian cause. With 8 goals to his name this year in Serie A and a significant number of assists, the question remains as to whether Lippi will forgive and forget the Sampdoria number 99. The same must be said of â€˜Super Marioâ€™, who despite his most recent fall-out at Inter remains one of the countryâ€™s brightest prospects and capable of setting the World Cup alight.
Having brought scenes of jubilation and triumph to Circus Maximus in Rome in the summer of 2006, the remaining factor amongst all the talk is that...In Lippi We Trust.