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Defence again key to success
Despite less-than-convincing performances in qualifying, confidence is high in Italy that the Azzurri will be strong contenders for the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan and follow-up on their second-place finish in the UEFA European Championship 2000.
'La Nazionale' have a strong team with undoubted ability, but with so many stars to choose from, it will be vital that technical director Giovanni Trapattoni picks the right combination. Certainly a key player for the Azzurri will be Francesco Totti. The Roma maestro was outstanding last year with his club during their Scudetto-winning campaign. Trapattoni said that Totti was a visionary leader "capable of inspiring his side to [FIFA World Cup] victory next summer." He has the ability to lift the players around him, and his passing and commitment are second to none.
In attack, Christian Vieri appears to be Trapattoni's first-choice striker, but the Inter Milan player is injury prone. Also in the frame are former Juventus team mates Alessandro Del Piero, Filippo Inzaghi, and even possibly the resurgent Roberto Baggio.
A key ingredient in Italy's hopes for the FIFA World Cup is their defensive pedigree. Stinginess is a typical Italian trait on the pitch, and their performance to reach the final of the European Championship and in the qualifiers - they allowed just three goals in eight matches -mean that Italian resolve is as strong as ever.
One of the main reasons for this in recent years has been the play of defender Paolo Maldini, Italy's most capped player, who will be retiring after the finals. The 33-year-old has been one of the most consistent performers for Italy over the last ten years, and his displays for Milan and Italy have shown that he has been one of the best defenders of his generation, combining tactical awareness with skill and pace.
The likes of world-class players Fabio Cannavaro and Alessandro Nesta fill out a back line likely to keep the three-time World Champions in any match.
Significant past players:
Roberto Baggio, Franco Baresi, Marco Tardelli, Paolo Rossi, Marco Tardelli, Dino Zoff, Luigi Riva, Gianni Rivera, Sandro Mazzola, Giacinto Facchetti, Giuseppe Meazza
-- Champion 1934 FIFA World Cup Italy
-- Champion 1938 FIFA World Cup France
-- 2nd 1970 FIFA World Cup Mexico
-- 4th 1978 FIFA World Cup Argentina
-- Champion 1982 FIFA World Cup Spain
-- 3rd 1990 FIFA World Cup Italy
-- 2nd 1994 FIFA World Cup USA
-- Quarter-final 1998 FIFA World Cup France
-- Champion UEFA European Championship Italy 1968
-- 4th UEFA European Championship Italy 1980
-- 3rd UEFA European Championship France 1984
-- 2nd UEFA European Championship Belgium - The Netherlands 2000
-- Champion Olympic Football Tournament 1936
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