Italy have been dealt a major blow ahead of the 2014 World Cup after midfielder Ricardo Montolivo was ruled out due to injury.
The AC Milan playmaker suffered a broken leg in an innocuous challenge with Alex Pearce during Italy’s 0-0 draw with Ireland at Craven Cottage last Saturday.
His replacement at the weekend, Alberto Aquilani, was substituted only moments later due to blurred vision but he made the cut in Cesare Prandelli’s 23-man squad.
The same cannot be said of Giuseppe Rossi as the striker has been omitted yet again having been dropped for the 2010 World Cup while missing the European Championship two years ago due to injury. The Fiorentina man suffered knee ligament damage back in January and despite featuring in Italy’s warm up friendlies, he has failed to regain match fitness.
As shown in their Euro 2012 opener against Spain in 2012, the Italians are renowned for their versatility and are comfortable operating in either a 4-3-3 or a 3-5-2 formation.
Despite the addition of several youthful players to the Italian squad, their side will not be lacking in experience. Captain Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi were all apart of the Azzuri’s 2006 World Cup victory over France.
AC Milan pairing of Igazio Abate and Mattia De Sciglio look set to take the full back slots in Brazil with the Juventus duo of Giorgio Chellini and Leonardo Bonucci at centre-back.
Pirlo will be joined in midfield by De Rossi and Claudio Marchisio, all three of whom started in Italy’s 4-0 defeat in the final of Euro 2012.
On the left, expect the tricky Lorenzo Insigne to cause many problems for the opposition, as he will be coming into the tournament full of confidence having played a pivotal role in Napoli’s fifth Coppa Italia.
As for the right side, Alessio Cerci appears to be in pole position after scoring 13 goals in 36 appearances for Torino during the course of the season, helping them to qualify for the Europa League.
The bad boy of Italian football Mario Balotelli will again take centre stage up front. Balotelli was one of the standout performers a couple of years ago and is sure to be vital if the Italians are to make it a fourth World Cup triumph.
The Azzuri will start their World Cup campaign against England in Manaus on June 15 before facing Costa Rica and then Uruguay. A result in the opening game will be essential to the Italians progression as they look to upset the odds once again.
Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Mattia Perin (Genoa), Salvatore Sirigu (Paris St. Germain)
Defenders: Ignazio Abate (Milan), Andrea Barzagli (Juventus), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Matteo Darmian (Torino), Mattia De Sciglio (Milan), Gabriel Paletta (Parma)
Midfielders: Alberto Aquilani (Fiorentina), Antonio Candreva (Lazio), Daniele De Rossi (Roma), Claudio Marchisio (Juventus), Thiago Motta (Paris St. Germain), Marco Parolo (Parma), Andrea Pirlo (Juventus), Marco Verratti (Paris St. Germain)
Attackers: Mario Balotelli (Milan), Antonio Cassano (Parma), Alessio Cerci (Torino), Ciro Immobile (Torino), Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli).
Extratime.ie will be covering the FIFA World Cup 2014 from the first kick of a ball to the last with reports and news. We will also have regular features from our reporter in Brazil – Macdara Ferris.