A complete and serious contender for the final victory, Bearzot’s Italy can boast a highly respectable squad in every department.
The defense is perhaps the strongest in the tournament and has undoubtedly seen some painful but perhaps necessary exclusions (Bergomi, Vierchowod). It’s interesting to note that there are, on paper, three left-backs (Cabrini, Facchetti, Maldini), but only Cabrini is a natural left-footer. This opens up various defensive possibilities: maybe we’ll see Maldini on the right and Facchetti on the left? Who knows.
It’s also smart to include Zambrotta, who can play on both flanks and even in midfield if needed.
In midfield, the exclusion of Antognoni has caused some buzz, but there are enough strong attacking midfielders. As for the rest, there are two tenacious midfielders like Gattuso and Benetti, two different types of attacking midfielders like Rivera and Mazzola (by the way, will they alternate or will we finally see them on the field together in this World Cup?), two versatile attacking wingers like Donadoni and Bruno Conti, and a complete central midfielder like Tardelli. Apart from Antognoni, there haven’t been any shocking exclusions.
In the forward line, the exclusion of Paolo Rossi, the hero of Spain ’82, has sparked a lot of discussion. It seems that several protests have come from his former national teammates, such as Bruno Conti or Marco Tardelli. However, the coach has been unwavering and staunchly defended the choice of former Juventus player Bettega in his place, stating a preference for having a mobile striker who is strong in the air and can communicate well with other players, all qualities that Bettega possesses.
For the rest, there is tremendous quality (Baggio, Totti, and Del Piero!) and goal-scoring prowess (Riva and Vieri). The forward line is incredibly well-rounded, and we are curious to see who will be the starters, although it seems that the striking partnership will be Baggio-Riva. The team appears strong and complete, but the physical condition of some players who haven’t seemed to be at 100% (Rivera and Riva, in particular) remains to be seen.
On the other hand, the defense has provided excellent responses, conceding very little or nothing at all.
Interview with the Manager
Good morning, Mister. Football has changed since your time: how has this influenced player selection and tactics?
It has had a rather significant impact. Football has changed a lot since my time: in general, everything is faster, there’s more athleticism than in my day, more pressing. Some players from my era that I selected in the preliminary squad unfortunately had difficulties adapting, and I didn’t consider them ready; others, on the other hand, were already modern back then and still are now.
In friendly matches, you never fielded Scirea and Baresi together in defense, despite them being considered two of the best Italian defenders of all time. Why is that?
The reason is what I mentioned earlier. Football has changed! I need at least one physically powerful and tall player in the heart of the defense to partner with them.
Are you referring to Alessandro Nesta?
Possibly. Alessandro has been performing very well in training and is in great physical shape.
In the squad selection, there are several players from ’82 that you know well, but there are two notable exclusions: Bergomi and Paolo Rossi. That’s why you’ve received a lot of criticism.
I had to make choices, sometimes painful ones, like all coaches who manage top teams. I’m sorry to have left out Beppe, and just like in defense, I had to leave out Claudio (Gentile), Giancarlo (Antognoni), Pietro (Vierchowod), and many others! To answer your question, the Italy I have in mind requires a modern, complete forward, good with both his head and feet, and who plays for the team. That’s why I called up Bettega, and I’m absolutely sure of that decision.
What kind of Italy will we see in this World Cup?
It will be a prepared Italy. We have worked hard, and the team’s cohesion is improving. It will be a solid, practical Italy, but also pleasing to watch.
Have you had the opportunity to speak with Marcello Lippi?
I spoke to him last week. We had a chat, and he gave me some tactical advice and a few tips.
In attack, you have four number tens at your disposal: Rivera, Baggio, Totti, and Del Piero. Who will be YOUR starting number ten?
I don’t know yet. I would like at least two of them to play together; we have been trying some experiments. We’ll see.
Goalkeepers: *Buffon, Zoff
Defenders: Baresi (c), P. Maldini, Scirea, Cannavaro, Facchetti, Nesta, Zambrotta, Burgnich, Cabrini
Midfielders: Rivera, S. Mazzola, Pirlo, Benetti, B. Conti, Benetti, Tardelli, Donadoni
Forwards: R. Baggio, Totti, Vieri, Del Piero, Bettega, Riva
Manager: Enzo Bearzot
Bearzot has clear ideas.
He is playing with a modern and revised version of the “zona mista” (mixed zone) from ’82: no more pure sweeper (like Scirea back then), but a flat backline where the two full-backs alternate in attacking phases (they have all been tested in friendlies), while the two center-backs are still uncertain, with Baresi being the only one who hasn’t been substituted so far.
We are curious to see what will happen with Baresi and Scirea: it seems unlikely that they will be able to play together, more for reasons of physical strength and centimetres (both, although extraordinary, suffer from very tall and physically strong forwards), so probably one of the two will remain out while the other will be partnered with either Nesta or Cannavaro.
In midfield, Pirlo is entrusted with the keys to the team’s play, and often, in the true style of the “Salida Lavolpiana,” he drops deep, almost on the defensive line, to build the game and dictate the tempo of the play.
In the left-central position, Gattuso – just like in Ancelotti’s Milan in the famous Christmas tree formation – covers the horizontal midfield space. Alongside him, on the right-central position, a box-to-box midfielder like Tardelli operates, playing all over the field and taking on the role of a goal scorer (he has scored 2 goals in 4 friendlies, all from runs into the box), while a pure playmaker like Rivera plays about 10 meters ahead of the other two midfielders and acts as a link-up player.
Clearly, there are no wide midfielders or wingers in such a scheme, so Bruno Conti and Donadoni, two excellent players who in any case remain two very valid options in the case of a module change, are effectively left out.
Up front, Baggio and Riva play as a second striker and a target man, respectively, often seeking each other with first-time passes without ever giving reference points to the opponents. The team predominantly plays on the counterattack, capitalizing on the long passes from the defenders (Scirea or Baresi) and midfielders (Pirlo or Rivera). When this happens, Tardelli, the two forwards, and one of the full-backs surge forward, providing various passing options.
In the defensive phase, the team sits back and adopts a highly reactive approach, without obsessively pursuing ball possession but rather by covering passing lanes and waiting for the opponent’s mistake to launch a counterattack. So far, the team has delivered excellent performances, although it seems to struggle a bit against highly aggressive and high-pressing opponents.
One of the probable starting lineups for Italy
Italy vs. Lazio: 1-0 7′ Tardelli
Italy vs. Atalanta: 3-1 44′ Lookman (pen.), 50′ Vieri, 55′ Baggio (pen.), 85′ Tardelli
Italy vs. Barcelona: 2-0 80′ Totti, 88′ Pirlo
Italy vs. PSG: 1-0 64′ Riva