Reigning champions Italy have Marcello Lippi back at the helm as they chase a fifth World Cup win, and a first outside Europe. Lippi replaced Roberto Donadoni after a disappointing Euro 2008 display, becoming the first coach to return to the Azzurri bench since Vittorio Pozzo, who guided Italy to back-to-back World Cup wins in 1934 and 1938.
Lippi has stuck with many of the heroes of 2006, even though the likes of Fabio Cannavaro and Gennaro Gattuso appear past their best. While qualification was relatively straightforward, the lethargic display at last year's Confederations Cup set alarm bells ringing. Beaten by Egypt and thrashed by Brazil, they looked anything but world champions.
Aim: To defy the critics once again by winning a fifth World Cup. Failing that, a run to the semi-finals would be vindication for Lippi.
THREE KEY PLAYERS
GIANLUIGI BUFFON Still rated by many as the world's finest goalkeeper, even if he is increasingly injury prone. Juventus' season imploded during the two months he sat out with a thigh problem.
ANTONIO DI NATALE Serie A's leading scorer in 2009/10, netting 29 times despite playing for struggling Udinese. One of the few flair players in the squad, Di Natale can play up front or on the left wing.
GIORGIO CHIELLINI Has replaced Marco Materazzi as Azzurri hard man - as Fabio Cannavaro and Robin van Persie will testify. Cannavaro missed Euro 2008 after being clattered in training, while a challenge on Van Persie last November ruled him out for five months.
MARCELLO LIPPI will step down for a second time this summer, with Fiorentina's Cesare Prandelli his replacement. Lippi has urged Italian fans to get behind their side: "I detect a lot of scepticism this time. I ask that we show a bit more confidence in these players."
ADOPT THEM BECAUSE...
The Romans may have given us aqueducts, sanitation and roads, but we also have Italians to thank for the spacehopper, jacuzzi and liposuction.
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
Italy's World Cup qualifying highlights
W 2-1 Cyprus (A) W 2-0 Georgia (H) D 0-0 Bulgaria (A) W 2-1 Montenegro (H) W 2-0 Montenegro (A) D 1-1 Rep Ireland (H) W 2-0 Georgia (A) W 2-0 Bulgaria (H) D 2-2 Rep Ireland (A) W 3-2 Cyprus (H) Finished top of group
WORLD CUP BEST
1934, 1938, 1982 & 2006: Four-time winners, the Italians were also runners-up to Brazil in 1970 and 1994.
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