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Monday, 20 May, 2002, 13:25 GMT 14:25 UK
Italy take shape
Italy squad pose for a team photograph at their pre-World Cup training camp
Italy are one of the World Cup favourites
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A 1-0 defeat to the Czech Republic was hardly the ideal World Cup warm-up, but, as ever with Italy, do not read too much into it.

While the Czechs were at full tilt and eager to prove a point, the Italians made nine substitutions and put the onus on experimentation.

Giovanni Trapattoni's starting team made for interesting reading, and gave a pretty clear indication of his plans for the Azzurri's opening game against World Cup debutants Ecuador.

With all the talk of the energy-sapping heat and humidity it could be that sitting back and hitting on the counter will be the way to play.

No side is better equipped to pull this off than Italy, and even with their customary and notorious slow start, the draw is favourable and should see them take on either Spain or Portugal in the last four.

They certainly have the players to reach that stage.

Gianluigi Bugon
Buffon has held off his peers
From back to front, it looks pretty certain now that Juventus' scudetto-winning goalkeeper Gigi Buffon will get the nod between the sticks.

Italy are blessed with two outstanding keepers. Inter's Francesco Toldo was the chosen number one at Euro 2000, but now Buffon gets the vote.

There is still uncertainty as to how Italy will line up at the back.

Trapattoni played Fabio Cannavaro, Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Nesta in a three-man defence against the Czechs, in a very similar formation to the one used by Dino Zoff to get Italy to the final of Euro 2000.

Back up defenders include Mark Iuliano, of Juve, and two former Premiership players, Christian Panucci and Marco Materazzi.

Two wing-backs, two workers in central midfield, and a playmaker further forward to link the play with attack will form a five man-midfield.

The wide boys will be Juve's Gianluca Zambrotta on the right, and Francesco Coco on the left.

Coco plays for Barcelona and is the only foreign-based player in the squad, though he is actually only on loan at the Nou Camp from AC Milan.

Cristiano Zanetti, Daniele Tommasi, Rino Gattuso and Luigi Di Biagio - the man whose missed penalty in the quarter-final shoot-out against France four years ago saw Cesare Maldini's side eliminated - will all compete for the two seats in the engine room.

And so to the key role of 'fantasista' - the man entrusted with providing the creativity to spark an otherwise functional team.

Gattuso took on this role against the Czech Republic, but that was because both Francesco Totti and his deputy Cristiano Doni were injured and Alessandro Del Piero refused to play there.

Totti is the golden boy of the side now.

Francesco Totti limbers up in training
Totti will be back to full fitness in time for the first match
The Roma captain will wear the prestigious number 10 shirt and has inherited the mantle of Italy's saviour previously held by the 'Divine Ponytail.

Trapattoni has insisted that there should be no more talk about the man whose skills, goals and hairstyle lit up the previous three World Cup campaigns.

But for a mid-season injury it is likely that this World Cup would have been his swansong.

However, times change and Totti is the new man in the hole with Atalanta's young buck Doni as back-up.

This Azzurri side is most admired for its defence, but just consider these options in attack.

Christian Vieri is a must. The Inter centre-forward has an uncanny knack of scoring in just about every game he plays, whether it's a brilliant left shot, a bullet header, or an ungainly bundle.

But who will be his running mate? It could be Del Piero, more of an out-and-out striker these days whose form continues to waver from stunning to woeful.

The Azzurri tifosi can't forgive Del Piero those late misses in the Euro 2000 Final, but he has ended the season in fine form alongside the Vieri-like David Trezeguet at Juve.

Vincenzo Montella displayed his pedigree with an outstanding strike against England at Elland Road recently.

He is a predator in the box and has been given the legendary squad number of 20, worn so famously by another pocket goal machine Paolo Rossi in 1982.

And there's also Filippo Inzaghi and Marco Delvecchio, both hard-working forwards who featured favourably at Euro 2000 and in Italy's unbeaten record in qualifying.

The strength in depth, from one to 11, promises a strong showing, and all that with mentioning Roberto Baggio.

A whole piece on Italy and without mention of Roberto Baggio? I knew I couldn't do it.

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