Italy staying low key
By MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency
Italy coach Marcello Lippi, left, jokes with goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon during a World Cup training session Sunday, June 13, 2010. (AFP PHOTO/Filippo MONTEFORTE)
CAPE TOWN -- Italy either knows something that no one else knows and is supremely confident or it is beginning to believe what everyone has been saying for months.
And that would be that they have no chance of repeating as World Cup champions and don't feel the need to offer explanations or expectations.
This is a remarkably low-key team.
Italy and Paraguay open their 2010 World Cup competition Monday. They are considered the best teams in that group.
And while the focus is on Italy, Paraguay is flying under the radar.
It is a tough team that has people who can score. Paraguay had a scare with Oscar Cardozo picking up an ankle injury but he is ready to go. He will pair with Manchester City's Roque Santa Cruz.
But Italy is the defending world champion and even if it wasn't, it is still Italy. There is always interest in this team.
In this tournament, the interest has been like being on hospital watch, waiting for your favourite old aunt to pass away.
We've heard the "too old, too slow" mantra since manager Marcello Lippi named his squad. He left out some of Italy's youngest, most inventive players. Instead, he went with the old dogs who ran in the pack with him when they won the World Cup in 2006.
Italy has not created much of a stir in South Africa. Its press conferences, normally jammed, have had plenty of room. Its players don't even seem to be getting as worked up about the constant negativity.
The Italians have been like elevator music, it's always in the background and mellows out the passengers but no one seems to be left with much of an impression when they get out of the elevator.
So far they've been as colourful as dishwater.
When you look at some of the quotes coming our of their camp, they leave you with the impression of someone who is disinterested in the conversation and keeps talking until he thinks of something to say.
Check out Gianluigi Buffon, the Italian No.1 in net, on his expectations for the team.
"Only winning the competition would be considered a success given how football is seen by us," he said. "Or even getting to the quarter-finals, against Brazil and Spain, and playing as equals, going out without regrets. It's all relative, but we hope not to go out in the group stages."
What's next "we're just happy to be here."
Yes indeed, the Azzurri are the Rodney Dangerfield boys of this World Cup. No one is giving them any respect.
That hasn't yet caused much of a reaction from the players.
Maybe this is what Lippi is talking about. When people talk old, he says experienced. When they say his team is tired, he says how tired can you get when you only have to play seven games in a month?
Is it possible the Italians are preparing to surprise everyone, that many in this group of players know it will be their last World Cup and that despite their poor onfield performances of late, they are just waiting for the chance to prove everyone wrong?
Is this a team waiting in the weeds to pounce or are they waiting because they don't have the energy to get out?
It wouldn't be the first time Italy has been written off only to put together a strong run for a championship.
And Lippi is right about one thing. It is only seven games and given the relative lightweight quality of the group with Slovakia and New Zealand, the Italians might not have to work that hard to move into the second round.
Little things are starting to go right for them.
It appears Andrea Pirlo will be back from injury sooner than expected. It appears Lippi might give a couple of his younger players a chance to play over some of the old guys. There is also the advantage of having little pressure on them. It appears this will be a World Cup that might provide some shocks.
One of those would be the Italians winning.