Zambrotta key for aging Italy

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:39 PM ET

JOHANNESBURG – If every other player on the Italian side performed like Gianluca Zambrotta, there wouldn't be any question about whether they are too long in the tooth.

Zambrotta has been the best player for the defending World Cup champions in South Africa.

At 33, it has been startling in how active he has been, not only defending but opening up opposing defences with his strong overlapping runs.

The Italians are facing a must-win game against Slovakia Thursday. The experienced Zambrotta is one player they will lean on to get them through.

Italy could also use the same kind of enthusiasm he has displayed.

In order to give itself the best chance of getting through to the next round, Italy must defeat Slovakia. It wouldn’t hurt to score a few goals, too.

Leaving it to chance – or the other game between Paraguay and New Zealand – shouldn't be an option.

"Either we're in or we're out," Zambrotta said. "It's not the first time we've faced a game like this and we know how to get the best out of ourselves.

"But we aren't even contemplating not making it to the next round. We still have a great chance to advance."

Italy is still in the process of trying to find itself.

The Italians haven't given up many chances but still have allowed two goals. They've created more chances than their opponents but have only scored twice.

Italian coach Marcello Lippi may be planning some changes in an effort to boost the scoring punch but no one knows what they are.

With everyone in the group still with a chance to advance, there probably won't be much sitting back.

"Slovakia still has everything to play for so they won't be staying back," Zambrotta said.

With most of the key players in the Italian lineup having played in big games, nerves shouldn’t be an issue. But this is the World Cup and everyone can be affected by a game of this magnitude.

"We're worried," midfielder Daniele De Rossi said. "I said it before and I'll say it again. If we don't make it past the first round, it would be a failure.

"If we can't win we don't deserve to advance. We're Italy and we ought to be able to win one of these three games – otherwise it would only be fair to go home."

Slovakian defender Martin Petras put the pressure squarely on Italy.

"We have nothing to lose," Petras said. "They failed in the first match. They failed in the second. It's difficult to see them failing in the third. Italy never fails like that. But let's see, let's hope for a miracle."

Some people would say this tournament has already produced several miracles.

The feeling is that the World Cup is now wide open and any team getting into the final 16 has a legitimate chance to win the title.

The chances would likely increase for the defending world champions.

The key though, is to get there.


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