What are the expectations for the team?
Pessimism prevails. The Azzurri rarely looked like world champions in qualifying and Marcello Lippi’s insistence on basing his team on an ageing core of players from the 2006 campaign means hopes are not high for a sudden change of form in the finals, despite being drawn in an easy group.
Is the coach popular?
Lippi’s public persona does not make him an easy man to like. Naturally he’s respected for what he’s achieved, but he comes across as grouchy and aloof, so to describe him as popular would be pushing it.
Are there any players with unusual hobbies or business interests?
Not much springs to mind. Juventus’s Italy contingent are involved in some embarrassing TV ads for a cruise company and men’s beauty products. Gennaro Gattuso is a tourism “ambassador” for his home region of Calabria.
Who are the best and worst interviewees?
Gianluigi Buffon is one of the few who seems to enjoy talking to journalists and can be refreshingly blunt. At last year’s Confederations Cup he said it was a good thing Italy’s inept campaign ended in the group stage (with a 3-0 drubbing from Brazil) to avoid the risk of further embarrassment. There are plenty of contenders for the worst interviewee prize, but I’ll give it to the mumbling Andrea Pirlo, although insiders say he’s actually quite a card in the dressing room.
Is the team likely to have any unusual goal celebrations?
Luca Toni still does his hand-waggling behind the ears routine but he’ll struggle to make the squad. Alberto Gilardino’s violin-playing number hasn’t been seen for some time. Mario Balotelli has said he will continue not celebrating his goals until he scores in the World Cup final, although Lippi is unlikely to give him the chance at it this year.
Are there any personal rivalries in the squad?
If Lippi decides to call up Juventus’s Brazilian-born forward Amauri (after he obtained Italian citizenship in April) it could cause friction. Other contenders for the place, like AC Milan’s Marco Borriello and Sampdoria’s Giampaolo Pazzini, would understandably be miffed at the entry of a naturalised newcomer who has not exactly been on fire in Serie A recently. Pazzini said last year he was “bugged” that Amauri was even being considered, so things could be interesting if they both got called up.
What will the media coverage be like?
Sky are showing the whole tournament and their coverage should be excellent. State broadcaster RAI, who will show the most glamorous match of the day plus all Italy’s games, are solid, although the partisan praise of “crafty” goings-on can be annoying. Gianluca Vialli and 1982 hero Paolo Rossi are presenters for Sky Italia. Both are laid-back and give thorough, if slightly dull, tactical analysis. RAI has former players Salvatore Bagni and Fulvio Collovati, a defender who like Rossi was a key member of the 1982 team. Collovati is a passionate and acute observer, but how Bagni has made a career in TV baffles me.
Will there be many fans travelling to South Africa?
The Italian national team does not have a massive travelling support, so probably not as many as you’d expect for the reigning champions. The White Stripes’ “po-po-po-po-po-po” riff from Seven Nation Army accompanied Italy to glory four years ago, so there’s a good chance it’ll be wheeled out again if Lippi’s men upset expectations. Paul Virgo