Since the World Cup win in Germany 2006 it's been a difficult time for Italy in the International arena. Losing to Spain on penalties at Euro 2008 and then the ignominy of finishing bottom of their group in South Africa have reflected the turbulent times being experienced in the domestic game. The Calciopoli scandal and finance issues gripping many clubs have meant a lean time for clubs and as a result the national team have felt the effects as well.
However in the last two years we have a seen a slow recovery from these dark days with the Mourinho inspired treble at Inter Milan and Napoli's exciting brand of football receiving plaudits around Europe this season.
Could it be the return of the Old Lady to the top table however that inspires the national team to hit the heights this summer in the Ukraine and Poland?
After 'losing' two of their titles in the Calciopoli scandal, Juventus surpassed all expectations going unbeaten all season and securing their thirtieth national title. Under the guidance of Juventus legend Antonio Conte, they have been a solid defensive unit which conceded only 20 goals all season whilst scoring the second highest number of goals with 68 (only bettered by Milan with 74).
Invariably a strong Juventus team have been a positive for the national squad as well with 3 out of 4 of the World Cup triumphs coming in years when Juventus are champions. Juventus are known well in Italian football for looking to use more home grown talents than foreign imports and this is reflected in the number of players selected in the preliminary squad. 7 players selected is comfortably higher than any other side and its possible that come opening game against Spain on 10th June 4 players from the Old Lady may be selected in the back 5. Along with the experience of Andrea Pirlo and Danielle De Rossi in midfield, the Italian team has a solid foundation on which to build its attempt at taking down the champions in the opening game and advance further in the tournament.
In a group containing the champions Spain, unpredictable Croatia and an Ireland team that loves a tournament atmosphere, it will not be a straight forward passage to the latter stages. It's important then that the team is prepared and understands each other. What better way for this to happen then by using players in a team that has performed with a truly collective mental attitude like Conte has produced this season at Juve?
It is also likely that 3 of the forwards selected for the tournament injury pending will be Di Natale, Cassano and the enigmatic Mario Balotelli. Di Natales' age suggests he may find it difficult to play each game and with Cassano not long back from a heart condition that threatened his career at one stage, it could fall to Balotelli to be the focal point in attack. Any fan who has seen Balotellis' performances for Manchester City this season will realise that whilst he is a sublime player at times, he is not the hardest working team player. With this in mind it will be even more vital that the defence and midfield are solid to allow Balotelli or Cassano that freedom to do what they do best up front.
Italy are not expected to be one of the front runners for the championships this summer but much like Juventus and the team of 2006, the pieces may fall together just right to allow another Italian renaissance on the international stage.
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