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Monday, 17 June, 2002, 21:56 GMT 22:56 UK

Italian media are worried

South Korea v Italy | Second round
Daejeon | Tue 18 June | 1230 BST
BBC One/Radio Five Live

By Kevin Buckley
BBC Sport Online's man in the Italy camp

The Italian media are concerned, but still confident their team will not be subjected to the tomato treatment after the second round game against co-hosts South Korea.

The North is a completely different country, but any mention of Korea to Italians revives memories of that infamous 1-0 World Cup defeat in 1966.

That loss to North Korea confirmed the Azzurris' exit from the competition and ensured a torrid reception on their arrival back in Italy when they were 'a pomodorate' - pelted with tomatoes.

Injuries and suspension to some of Italy's key defenders has revealed a significant underlying worry among Italian journalists.

A straw poll conducted among Italian media men showed 20% predict a win for South Korea.

Almost 50% are confident of an Italian win inside 90 minutes, while the rest feel Italy would have to come through the nerve-wracking ordeal of a penalty shoot-out.

The cause for concern is the ripping out of the heart of the Italian defence.

Fabio Cannavaro's suspension adds to the almost certain absence of Alessandro Nesta through injury, and a worrying loss of form for captain Paolo Maldini since picking up a training-ground injury.

Coach Giovanni Trapattoni does not trust natural central defensive replacement Marco Materazzi following his disastrous display against Croatia when he was responsible for both goals.

Trapattoni's solution looks likely to revert from a 3-5-1-2 formation to a 4-4-2 system, which has unbalanced the team.

That will involve pulling Maldini in from the left-back berth to partner Mark Iuliano in the centre of defence, although questions have been raised about Juventus defender Iuliano's international status.

Francesco Coco, ostensibly a midfielder, will fill in for Maldini at left-back, with Christian Panucci at right-back.

Trapattoni also now finds himself facing the very attacking dilemma he must have been dreading.

Francesco Totti's under-par performance against Mexico gave way to Alessandro del Piero for the last 11 minutes, enough for the Juventus favourite to get the side out of jail with a late equaliser.

Serie A culture means you do not drop a goalscorer.

But with Totti already scowling over being taken off, Trap will need all his legendary man-management skills to prevent a clash over who takes the coveted 'trequartista' role tucked in behind the two strikers.

Consequently, against South Korea del Piero could well start, on the left, slightly ahead of midfield, with Totti doing the same on the right.

The broad-shouldered Christian Vieri could operate as the lone front-line striker.

An alternative would be to resort to the classic 'staffeta' - alternation - of the two superstars.

Otherwise, the price to be paid would be leaving out Pippo Inzaghi, scarce reward for the quick-footed AC Milan striker's good performances thus far.

All this makes no mention of Vincenzo Montella.

The mobile AS Roma striker who would love the chance to celebrate his 28th birthday performing his trademark 'aeroplanino' goalscoring celebration which has earned him the nickname 'Little Aeroplane.

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