ROME — Italy go to the World Cup finals looking to equal the record of hosts Brazil and lift the trophy for a fifth time.
With the first Group D game against England and tricky encounters with Uruguay and Costa Rica to follow, Coach Cesare Prandelli still has tough decisions to make.
Prandelli is spoiled for top quality choice and knows his players have the technical ability. The questions are over Italy’s temperament on the world stage.
Italy comfortably topped their qualifying group but Prandelli’s experiments searching for an attacking game led to a mish-mash of performances and much criticism.
He kept Giuseppe Rossi in the 30-man squad named Tuesday even though he is still recovering from a four-month layoff.
And Prandelli put off choosing between rival strikers Ciro Immobile, the Serie A’s leading scorer, and Mattia Destro, naming them both in the squad that will start a 10-day training camp next week.
On paper, the team backbone is there.
Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, defenders Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli and midfielders Andrea Pirlo, Daniele De Rossi and Riccardo Montolivo are guaranteed places.
An embarrassment of strikers and offensive midfielders capable of scoring goals could give Prandelli his biggest dilemma.
Mario Balotelli is considered an automatic starter, although the inconsistent AC Milan striker — who has endured a testing season for the Rossoneri — has plenty of competition.
Prandelli can choose from Fiorentina’s Rossi, Roma’s Destro, Torino’s Immobile, who has hit 22 league goals this season, and veteran Antonio Cassano of Parma who has fought his way back into contention.
Among the preliminary squad surprises are Milan’s Ignazio Abate, Napoli’s Christian Maggio — who only returned to action last week after three months recovering from a collapsed lung — and Verona’s Brazilian-born midfielder Romulo.
Prandelli said recently he had already decided most of the 23 players he would take to Brazil.
“In my head, I already have 18 or 19 players for sure. The others will be evaluated during our preparation phase,” Prandelli said a fortnight ago.
Italy will spend 10 days at their Coverciano training camp near Florence from May 19-29, and play the Republic of Ireland in a friendly at Fulham’s Craven Cottage ground on May 31. Costa Rica also faces Ireland a week later as the team hopes the match will provide insight into playing England.
Italy will be aiming for a long run at the World Cup in contrast to their woeful defense of the trophy in 2010 which saw them go out at the group stage.
The smart money would perhaps go on Prandelli opting for youthful exuberance over experience — especially with Italy based in the humid north of the country where the sticky conditions will provide an extra challenge.