Soccer World Cup

World Cup Team Preview: Italy’s Hopes Rest With Erratic Mario Balotelli

Italy and Milan striker Mario Balotelli

Getty Images

The World Cup chances of Italy will rest pretty squarely on the shoulders of the erratic Mario Balotelli in Brazil. Balotelli is clearly their No. 1 striker, but some of his fellow attackers have endured injury problems this season, which currently leaves him with a heavy workload.

The Azzurri will be looking to do a whole lot better than they did at the last World Cup in 2010 after finishing at the bottom of their group and enduring a horrid time in South Africa. As if that wasn’t enough, it was also the first time in Italy’s World Cup history that they failed to win a single game after two draws and a defeat sent them home early.

In 2006, Italy were crowned World Cup winners as they won the trophy for the fourth time. Who could have imagined that they would have been sent home at the group stage in such a drab and disappointing manner in the very next tournament? It leaves the Italians with a wrong to right and a point to prove this year.

In terms of the squad, the defense and midfield will be as stable as you would imagine, but the attack could be their undoing later on in the competition. Relying on Balotelli is a dangerous game, and Italy manager Cesare Prandelli will be aware of the risks, but also the potential rewards too.

Either way, at the very least, it will be entertaining with Balotelli.

Attack

Balotelli will lead the line in attack for the Italians, though who will play with him will be the question. If fit, Giuseppe Rossi would probably be the answer, but an injury back in January has put his place in doubt. Stephan El Shaarawy has also had injury problems and is unsure of a place on the squad as things stand.

But while the injuries have kicked in elsewhere, players like Ciro Immobile and Alessio Cerci have challenged for a spot themselves. Mattia Destro has proved to be a valuable substitute at Roma and could fill the same role for the Azzurri in Brazil. Emanuele Giaccherini, Lorenzo Insigne and Dani Osvaldo will all hoping to play their way onto the squad before the season is out.

Midfield

The midfield will showcase some familiar faces with Daniele De Rossi, Andrea Pirlo and Riccardo Montolivo all certain to be on the squad. Claudio Marchisio initially lost his place to Paul Pogba in the Juventus midfield earlier this season, but after regaining a place on the team, he looks a lot more certain to be called up to the squad.

Thiago Motta, Antonio Candreva and Marco Verratti are also still fighting to finally make the team as the domestic season heads down the final stretch.

Defense

Italy always have the potential to do the unexpected in terms of formations, but whether they play four at the back or three at the back, Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci are all sure to be there in one capacity or another for the center-back positions.

The full-back positions are more complicated due to injury problems for Christian Maggio, Ignazio Abate and Mattia De Sciglio. Domenico Criscito looks to be a favorite for the left-back spot, but there are still decisions to be made overall in the two wide defensive positions.

Prediction

Italy will get out of Group D and past the second round. Whether they finish first or second in their group will decide their ultimate fate though. Winning the group will most likely lead to a quarterfinal against Spain, which would probably be the end of the road, but finishing second in the group  would most likely lead to a game against hosts Brazil.

The Brazil game would suit them more and is more winnable for them; but in all likelihood, a quarterfinal exit looms for the Azzurri.

Related:

World Cup Team Preview: England
World Cup Team Preview: Netherlands
World Cup Team Preview: Germany