Manager – Cesare Prandelli
Captain – Gianluigi Buffon
Most Capped Player – Fabio Cannavaro (136 caps)
Record Goalscorer – Luigi Riva (35 goals)
FIFA Ranking – 12th
Odds To Win – 14/1
(Provisional 32 man squad)
Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Emiliano Viviano (Palermo), Morgan de Sanctis (Napoli), Salvatore Sirigu (Paris Saint-Germain)
Defenders: Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Andrea Barzagli (Juventus), Domenico Criscito (Zenit St. Petersburg), Christian Maggio (Napoli), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Andrea Ranocchia (Internazionale), Federico Balzaretti (Palermo), Salvatore Bocchetti (Rubin Kazan), Ignazio Abate (AC Milan), Angelo Ogbonna (Torino), Davide Astori (Cagliari)
Midfielders: Andrea Pirlo (Juventus), Daniele De Rossi (AS Roma), Ricardo Montolivo (AC Milan), Claudio Marchisio (Juventus), Antonio Nocerino (AC Milan), Thiago Motta (Paris Saint-Germain), Alessandro Diamanti (Bologna), Luca Cigarini (Atalanta), Emanuele Giaccherini (Juventus), Ezequiel Schelotto (Atalanta), Marco Veratti (Pescara)
Forwards: Antonia Di Natale (Udinese), Antonio Cassano (AC Milan), Mario Balotelli (Manchester City), Sebastian Giovinco (Parma), Fabio Borini (Roma), Mattia Destro (Siena)
ROUTE TO THE FINALS
The Italians lived up to their billing as the favourites to emerge from their qualifying group in first place by going through the entire group unbeaten. A nervy start to the campaign saw them drop points in a goalless draw against Northern Ireland and also having to come from behind against Estonia in the opening game. That draw against Northern Ireland saw them under pressure against the group’s other big team, Serbia a few days later. However, due to rioting Serbian fans the game was called off and the Italians were given a 3-0 walkover which saw them go top of the group and they never looked back. A mid-campaign friendly victory over world champions Spain gave the Italians a boost of confidence and they went on to win the group at a canter only dropping points away to Serbia in a 1-1 draw. Striker Antonio Cassano was the Italians top scorer in qualifying with 6 of their 20 goals and after overcoming illness which ruled him out for 6 months earlier this season the Italians will be once again relying on his goalscoring ability to fire them to glory.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Andrea Pirlo: Veteran midfielder Andrea Pirlo has seen and done it all. Three Serie A winning medals, two Champions League winning medals and of course a World Cup winning medal are just some of the honours Pirlo has amassed over a career spanning 18 years. After his announcement that he was leaving AC Milan at the end of the 10/11 season, many thought it was the end for the midfield maestro but he has surprised everyone by playing a pivotal role in Juventus’ return to the summit of Italian football. Only Paul Scholes and Xavi come close to the level of distribution and vision that Pirlo possesses and he still hits a dead ball as well, if not better than most of his peers. The likelihood is that this will be the last time we see Pirlo grace an international tournament and he’ll inevitably be at the heart of everything the Italians achieve this summer. Ignore him at your peril.
Mario Balotelli: What is there left to say about Mario Balotelli that hasn’t already been said this season? Undoubtedly the most talked about player in the Premier League for many years, Balotelli’s actions both on and off the pitch have ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous but there is no doubting his talent as a football player. Balotelli has the potential to be one of the tournament’s top performers this summer if Prandelli can manage to keep the troubled Italian striker’s temperament in check. His ability to play anywhere across the forward line will be invaluable to the Italians as they look to make up for their embarrassing performance at the 2010 World Cup. Nicknamed “the magician”, Balotelli couples pace and close control with adept finishing to earn his reputation as one of the most talented young players of his generation.
HOW WILL THEY LINE UP?
RESULTS v IRELAND
07/06/2011, Liége Belgium - L 0-2
10/10/2009, Croke Park Dublin - D 2-2
01/04/2009, Bari Italy - D 1-1
17/08/2005, Lansdowne Road Dublin, W 2-1
18/06/1994, New Jersey USA, L 0-1