Group F Preview: Can Vintage Chianti Last Another Month?


Italy are the reigning World Champions but you wouldn’t believe it when listening to all the pre-tournament predictions and prognostications. The Italians are nobody’s favourites to retain the trophy. They are barely even mentioned as potential semi-finalists.

They are however everybody’s favourites to emerge from this very weak group which also contains Paraguay, Slovakia and minnows New Zealand.

Italy’s critics allege that they may have won with an experienced squad in 2006 but by 2010, that same squad will be, and are, aging.

Names such as Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Fabio Cannavaro (Juventus), Gianluca Zambrotta (AC Milan), Mauro Camoranesi (Juventus), Morgan De Sanctis (Napoli), and Gennaro Gattuso (AC Milan) are famous, not just for being good, but for having been around a long time.

Cannavaro is 36, Zambrotta 35, De Sanctis 33, Gattuso 32 and Camoranesi 33. There is some degree of doubt that players of such vintage can go too deeply into a demanding tournament. Relatively young by comparison is Fiorentina’s Alberto Gilardino who has been a stand out up front in Serie A this year. He should be responsible for most of the open play goals the Italians score.

They may take advantage of their middle game being against New Zealand to rest one or two of the older players, and leave them fresh to face Slovakia who will have come off a key game against Paraguay.

Italy qualified unbeaten with seven wins and three draws in a very weak group where only the Republic of Ireland came close to adequacy with Bulgaria, Cyprus, Montenegro and Georgia failing to trouble anyone but each other. Italy didn’t really impress but didn’t really need to.

Their strength however may be their unity. All 23 squad members play their football in Serie A with six of them coming from Juventus.

Italian football is not known for being unnecessarily adventurous. Their style of ‘catenaccio’ can be simplified to allowing the other team to attack while getting everyone behind the ball, and then breaking up the field quickly when that move breaks down. Critics also accuse Italian’s of dreaming of winning every match 1-0 and lacking any ambition to entertain when they have the lead.

Coach Marcello Lippi is known for his intense loyalty to his players and wishing to create a family style bond to his squads, which perhaps explains the lack of significant new faces from the last time. Especially in altitude, Italy won’t be running around very much. Expect them to emerge from this group with a minimum of energy exerted.

Slovakian coach Vladimir Weiss also believes in creating a family style atmosphere. So much so that he selected his son also called Vladimir to the squad.

He also has something few other nations can boast, an uninjured Chelsea player, Miroslav Stoch. Weiss Junior is on the books at Manchester City. Liverpool’s Martin Skrtel makes up the third of an EPL triumvirate.

Four others play in the Bundesliga in Germany, Peter Pekarik (Wolfsburg), Stanislav Sestak (Bochum), Jan Durica (Hannover), and Erik Jendrisek (Schalke 04).

Andy Boyens
Scott Marsh Photography

Their star player might be someone who plays in neither league, but De Sanctis teammate at Napoli Marek Hamsik, a 22-year-old centre forward. His 35 Serie A appearances brought 12 goals, but he may not hold many surprises for his Italian opponents. Expect him to take any frustration out on New Zealand.

The All Whites are thought by many to be the worst team in the tournament. This is their first qualification since 1982 where they lost all three matches. Ricki Herbert’s Kiwis were vaulted to the status of best team in Oceania after Australia’s decision to play in the Asian Conference.

Therefore all they had to do was conquer inconsequential football nations such as Samoa, the Solomon Islands and Fiji, and hey presto they found themselves in a play-off with Bahrain. Wellington Phoenix keeper Mark Paston saved a penalty and the All Whites won a famous 1-0 aggregate victory.

Still, Herbert, also coach at Wellington Phoenix, has five players from the one club at the core of his squad, that club being of course Wellington Phoenix. MLS is represented in this squad with the now unattached Simon Elliott traveling to South Africa, along with New York Red Bulls Andy Boyens. Columbus Duncan Oughton fell out of favour with Herbert a while ago.

In 1982, although New Zealand lost all three games, they did at least manage to score twice. Both against Scotland. Repeating that tally would represent a decent show for the country with more experience of visiting South Africa than anyone else – just at rugby rather than football.

Paraguay were perhaps the most surprising side to emerge from the single table South American group. They finished a comfortable third and beat Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, all four other South American qualifiers, along the way.

They have a good mixture of leagues represented among their squad, with a tournament high ten different nations hosting their 23 man squad.

Manchester City’s Roque Santa Cruz is the best known and top star along with Benfica’s Óscar Cardozo. Their net is in safe hands with Valladolid’s Justo Villar about to augment his 72 caps.

Paraguay have never progressed further beyond the Round of 16. With a side from Group E waiting, this may be their best chance yet to do that.


1. Italy

2. Paraguay

3. Slovakia

4. New Zealand

World Cup Podcasts


About Author


  1. yea, good analysis, im surprised about the italy talk out there too (i cant believe people are picking them as a flop), people are getting excited about messi and spain and the dutch, but when it comes to team ball and a national style of play its brazil and italy – those guys are born and bred to play a specific position on their respective national teams, both will be in the mix as we get down to the quarters