Cool coach dismisses criticism of Italy

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:28 PM ET

PRETORIA -- There were long faces and worried looks. Dozens of discussions took place in hushed tones. There was head shaking and finger pointing. Everywhere you look, people would shrug their shoulders with palms up.

And that was just the Italian media watching the defending World Cup champions train the day after an unexpected 1-1 draw with New Zealand.

One would never know there was a dark cloud on the Azzurri sky.

The truth is, the media looks a lot more worried than coach Marcello Lippi. The veteran coach handled a packed press conference with the coolness of someone who had won both the first two games instead of having only obtaining one point in each game. And he also has to win their next game to guarantee a move to the second round.

The coolness comes from experience.

First, there is the experience of playing in high-pressure situations. Secondly, it has become almost a rite of passage for Italian teams in the World Cup. More often than not, they find themselves in situations where it's win or go home.

It seems everyone knows the routine.

Even president of the Italian football federation, Giancarlo Abete.

He was mobbed by media who were firing questions at him, everything from what he thought of the team to what if anything he said to Lippi and his own feelings about Italy being in this situation.

"This isn't the first time we've been in a situation," he said. "It would be preferable for the last game to mean nothing. But the good thing is our destiny is in our own hands. We are better off than some of the other great teams in the world like England, Germany, Spain are in situations that aren't as good."

The coolness also comes from Lippi's ability to shed criticism like a snake sheds its skin.

"I couldn't care less," Lippi said in his most dismissive tone when asked about the criticism his team is facing.

Italy has two points in the group, tied with New Zealand with two and Slovakia with one. Paraguay leads with three points. Italy and Slovakia play Thursday in Johannesburg. A win and Italy goes through. A draw and it has to wait to see what happens in the other game.

Pressure? What pressure.

Lippi was immaculate at the press conference. He joked with some of the reporters and smoothly chastised those who have been critical of the team. It's appropriate the Paul Newman lookalike was as cool as Cool Hand Luke.

You can only hope he doesn't come to the same end.

"Nothing is decided," Lippi said at the press conference. "You can't look at the glass as being empty although that's how many of you are looking at it. You can look at it any way you want.

"There have been negatives, but not all negatives. Our opponents have had two shots from 40 yards and they wound up in goals. Those were the only chances we've given up. The way we defended is positive.

"Twice we fell behind. It's not easy to come from behind. That's a positive as well."

Lippi is not entirely happy with his team.

The first 15 minutes of practice, he took the team and sat them behind advertising barriers to talk to them.

"I talked to them about responsibility," he said. "Everyone has to take responsibility for what they do. It wasn't negative, but we haven't achieved what we wanted to."

The media, mostly Italian, were probing Lippi looking for chinks in his armour, hoping he'd spill something like the potential lineup, any off-field issues or whether some the younger players were being affected.

"There is no crisis here and there is no crisis on the field," he said.

Italy is desperate for good news and the sight of Andrea Pirlo practising was a cause for rejoicing.

"This was the first time Pirlo has played with the ball in 15 days," Lippi said. "How can you say he's almost ready when he's kicked the ball just once?"

While the Italians need to win to advance, this is a World Cup that is full of surprises.

"You don't count the horses until they are at the post," Lippi said. Translation: Nothing matters until the race begins.

"This team will get better," he said. "Don't be surprised if this team starts putting together better results."


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