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WORLD CUP FORECAST: Group D - Can Italy restore pride after a disastrous WC 2010?

Italy will be out to reinstate themselves as one of the world's top football nations in 2014 in the wake of their shambolic performance in South Africa four years ago.

In 2010, the Azzurri inexplicably finished bottom of a group that consisted of Paraguay, Slovakia and New Zealand which is sure to have them breathing fire in Brazil.

That type of display, in failing to win in their three group stage games, is very un-Italian so expect Cesare Prandelli's side to be set on redemption when they tackle a much tougher trio this time around in Uruguay, England and Costa Rica.

Their qualifying campaign was solid without being spectacular which is generally the modus operandi for the Italians over the course of their rich and successful history.

Quite rarely do they blow opponents away but never are they beaten with ease which makes for an interesting initial phase of Brazil 2014.

The opening match against old adversaries England will tell us a little more about where Prandelli's men are at and we expect them to be full of resolve and purpose in order to bring some pride back to the homeland.

They certainly redeemed themselves on the continental stage when finishing second to Spain at Euro2012 but Italy have set the bar for being the best in the world, not just in their region.


Manager: Cesare Prandelli

Fixtures: England - June 14 (Manaus), Costa Rica - June 20 (Recife), Uruguay - June 24 (Natal)

Past outings against group opponents: Italy have met the English on 24 occasions in their history. The Azzurri have won nine of those meetings, while sharing seven draws and losing on eight occasions. At Italia '90, the hosts edged the Three Lions 2-1 to finish in third spot. Their most recent encounter was a 2-1 friendly win to England in August 2012.

The Italians have played Costa Rica only once before which produced a 1-0 friendly win in the USA in 1994.

Italy has taken on Uruguay on eight occasions which has seen them win twice, lose twice and play out four draws. Past WC meetings include a 0-0 draw at Mexico 1970 and a 2-0 triumph to the Azzurri at Italia '90. Italy won 3-2 in a penalty shootout after a 2-2 draw in the third-place play-off at the 2013 Confederations Cup in Salvador.

Key players: Andrea Pirlo (Juventus), Mario Balotelli (AC Milan), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus)

World Cup utopia: Of course, like every team, winning the World Cup would be the ultimate but Italy may settle for a quarter-final or semi-final finish.

Doomsday scenario: Ending up third in Group D.

Qualified by virtue of: Finishing on top of UEFA Group B.

Best result at a World Cup: WON (1934, 1938, 1982, 2006)

tribal's forecast:

It's hard to see who exactly will be the key performers for the Italians as Prandelli likes to rely on the vast majority rather than one or two shining stars.

One exception is Juventus veteran Pirlo who at 35 is playing some of the best football of his career as a controlling midfielder. 'The Architect' has led the Bianconeri to successive Serie A titles from this position and is expected to play the same role for his country in what will be his swansong on the world stage.

His exquisite passing and sublime dead-ball attributes would make him a joy to play alongside and it would only be fitting if the Italians could pull off a minor miracle by winning their fifth cup for the influential Pirlo.

Firebrand striker Balotelli has the capability of setting the World Cup alight and could be Italy's 'X-factor' if he turns up to play. He will be leading an attacking line which could also consist of regulars Giuseppe Rossi and Antonio Cassano as well as promising Napoli youngster Lorenzo Insigne but it is usually in defence where Italy achieves success.

Chiellini will be the general in the back with help from the likes of Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Ignazio Abate and it is expected to be from this third of the pitch where the Italians kickstart their game.

Prandelli will get the most out of the 23 he takes with him to Brazil which is sure to include experienced goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who like Pirlo, will be playing in his last World Cup.

A champion team often outweighs a team of champions and if Italy can unite together and play the type of sacrificial game they have in the past, then anything is possible, especially when the team has been written off in the build-up.

Prediction: Quarter-finals.

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Andrew Slevison
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Andrew Slevison

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